How to Punctuate Dialogue


We read hundreds of unpublished manuscripts and we can confidently say that the problem most writers struggle with the most is how to punctuate dialogue.

It’s boring, but it’s important. When an editor reads a great submission that’s badly punctuated, it doesn’t completely put them off, but it interferes with their ability to lose themselves in the narrative.

The good news is that punctuating dialogue isn’t hard at all. By keeping a few simple rules in mind, you’ll have more-professional looking manuscripts in no time.

how to punctuate dialogue. Writing skills for authors

The basics:

  • UK style uses ‘single quote’ marks.

  • Punctuation of the sentence spoken always stays within the quote marks. Eg: ‘I love you.’

  • Examples of a dialogue tag: she said, he said

  • Dialogue begins with a capitalized word, no matter where in the sentence it begins. Interrupted dialogue is not capped.

The variables:

  • One line of speech, no dialogue tag

  • Eg: ‘I love grammar.’

  • Eg: ‘I love grammar!’

  • NOT: ‘I love grammar’.

  • One line of speech followed by a dialogue tag

  • ‘I love grammar,’ said the mad editor.

  • NOT: ‘I love grammar.’ Said the mad editor.

  • ‘Do you love grammar?’ she asked.

  • NOT: ‘Do you love grammar?’ She asked

  • ‘I love grammar!’ she declared.

  • NOT: ‘I love grammar!’ She declared.

  • Dialogue tag followed by a line of speech

  • The mad editor said, ‘I love grammar.’

  • NOT: The mad editor said ‘I love grammar.’

  • Having dialogue tag in the middle of speech.

  • ‘I love grammar,’ she said. ‘It’s just so satisfying.’

  • NOT: ‘I love grammar’, she said, ‘it’s just so satisfying.’

  • Dialogue interrupted

  • ‘I love gr–‘

  • Not ‘I love gr…’

  • Dialogue training off

  • ‘I love grammar because…’

  • Changing speakers

  • General rule of thumb is to have a new paragraph each time the speaker changes.

She smiled at the woman opposite her. ‘It’s so great to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you and I’m really looking forward to reading your book.’

‘I’m quite nervous about you reading it, to be honest. When I wrote it I never really imagined anyone else reading, I wrote it for myself.’

‘I completely understand.’

By implementing these tips, there will be less barriers and distractions when reading your work, so the reader can be taken on a journey and experience the true essence of the story or wisdom you are sharing.

Are you ready to share your work with the world? Check out our Get Published page for more information on sending in submissions