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Old 01-04-2013, 09:45 PM   #1
Zach Lancer
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Technical question regarding dialogue

Hello, a question from fresh meat to you all. I've been troubling myself with a techical detail about how to write dialogue using open quote markings. When finishing a line with a period and following it with a speaker tag, should the period be removed or left in as is commonly done with exclamation and question marks?

Example:

Is it like this:

"How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." he snarled.

or this

-- You don't even understand me", he snarled.

I'm aware this problem can be circumvented by splitting the line into two parts in this manner:

"How could you be better than me?" he snarled. "You don't even understand me".

...but I would like to know if there are clear rules for this. English is not my first language, so I may not have a clear idea of all the very basics native speakers learn in schools. I would appreciate it if you could point me in the direction of a reliable database of English grammar for future reference in such matters.
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:52 PM   #2
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Remove the period and use a comma. The comma should be before the quotation mark.

"You don't even understand me," he snarled.

For reference, the Purdue Online Writing Lab is pretty good.
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:55 PM   #3
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Hi Zach -welcome to the cooler!
Your second example is the correct way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post
-- You don't even understand me", he snarled.
Only ? and ! go inside the quotation marks.

I have a hard enough time writing in English as my native tongue, so I'm impressed you are tackling writing in English when it isn't your first language.

Feel free to ask away. It helps those of us who are native speakers learn too!
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:01 PM   #4
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Whether the period or comma goes inside or outside the quotation mark depends on if it's US or UK English. US puts it inside, UK puts it outside. I'm pretty sure both US and UK put exclamation points and question marks inside.

There are special cases where it would go outside in both, such as: Who first said "rubber baby buggy bumpers"?

ETA: Actually, let me hold off on that. I've never seen the comma or period outside in fiction dialog, US or UK. What I was thinking of was when someone quotes material in nonfiction, such as: The most famous part of Roosevelt's speech was "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It goes inside in US English, outside in UK.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:15 PM   #5
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Thank you for the advice. What about the use of a period to end a line in my last example, was I correct in placing the period after the quotation mark, or are there cases when a period would be placed before the quotation mark? For example, let's imagine a scene where two people are engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue where no speaker tags are necessary, as there is no ambiguity about who is speaking due to the writer prior setting up the scene.

"Don't worry about the bag." "Why not?" "Because either the chap is gone and you won't ever see either, or he's an honest one and will still be with it."

or

"Don't worry about the bag". "Why not?" "Because either the chap is gone and you won't ever see either, or he's an honest one and will still be with it".

Not sure if this style of to-and-fro dialogue is acceptable in English literature, but you see in my language at least.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:17 PM   #6
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Hi Zach! The second way is the correct way. (edit to add: referring to your original post)

For your consideration, here is a brief breakdown of quotes, punctuation, and capitalization:

“Dialogue,” dialogue tag.
“Dialogue!” dialogue tag.
“Dialogue?” dialogue tag.
Dialogue tag, “Dialogue.”
Dialogue tag, “Dialogue!”
Dialogue tag, “Dialogue?”
“Dialogue.” Action (or some other new sentence).
“Dialogue!” Action.
“Dialogue?” Action.

Okay, it’s gotten to the point where the word “dialogue” looks ridiculous to me. Time to change it up.

“Speech,” tag, “continuation of speech.”
“Speech”—action—“continuation of speech.”
“Speech,” tag. “New speech.”
“Speech.” Action. “New speech.”


Hope that helps.

Last edited by Dorky; 01-05-2013 at 12:12 AM.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:18 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris P View Post
ETA: Actually, let me hold off on that. I've never seen the comma or period outside in fiction dialog, US or UK. What I was thinking of was when someone quotes material in nonfiction, such as: The most famous part of Roosevelt's speech was "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It goes inside in US English, outside in UK.
In less-formal UK English you'll often see it inside if it's a standalone sentence, or outside if it formed part of a longer line.

Examples:
You said, "let me hold off on that", remember?
"The only things we have to fear are misplaced commas."

For the OP's dialogue example, the comma should be inside.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:23 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post
Only ? and ! go inside the quotation marks.
In dialogue, all punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

"There's a hole in my bucket."

"Then fix it," she said.

"I don't know what to fix it with!"

"I really don't see how that's my problem, Henry. Why don't you call someone who gives a rat's pooper?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post
Thank you for the advice. What about the use of a period to end a line in my last example, was I correct in placing the period after the quotation mark, or are there cases when a period would be placed before the quotation mark? For example, let's imagine a scene where two people are engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue where no speaker tags are necessary, as there is no ambiguity about who is speaking due to the writer prior setting up the scene.

"Don't worry about the bag." "Why not?" "Because either the chap is gone and you won't ever see either, or he's an honest one and will still be with it."

or

"Don't worry about the bag". "Why not?" "Because either the chap is gone and you won't ever see either, or he's an honest one and will still be with it".
It's your first example--except, when a different person speaks, it's a new paragraph (usually). Like this:

"Don't worry about the bag."

"Why not?"

"Because either the chap is gone and you won't ever see either, or he's an honest one and will still be with it."
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:26 PM   #9
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Ah, I see. Thank you tremendously for the help!
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:27 PM   #10
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Here's a good and simple page with examples of how to punctuate dialogue (in the US):

http://core.ecu.edu/engl/whisnantl/3850/quotes.htm
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:51 PM   #11
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Also, here’s another tidbit that may be helpful

If you quote something and ask a question while you’re at it:

“Did John really just say, ’The sky is purple’?”
(question mark outside because John didn’t ask a question originally)

“Floobersniffles are real?” asked John.
“Did you really just ask, ’Floobersniffles are real?’”
(question mark inside. John’s original line was a question, and you’re asking a question too.)

Don’t bother asking what a floobersniffle is; I made it up just now.
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Old 01-04-2013, 11:56 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dorky View Post
“Speech,” action, “continuation of speech.”
Hope that helps.
Great examples, Dorky, but I did want to correct this one. That sort of construction should be formatted as such:

"If you say he's telling the truth"--he kicked at the ground--"then I guess I should believe you."

With -- signifying em-dashes. No spaces or commas involved.


For the sake of completeness, alternatives:

"If you say he's telling the truth..." He kicked at the ground. "Then I guess I should believe you."
"If you say he's telling the truth," he said and kicked at the ground, "then I guess I should believe you."
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Old 01-05-2013, 12:10 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corinne Duyvis View Post
Great examples, Dorky, but I did want to correct this one. That sort of construction should be formatted as such:

"If you say he's telling the truth"--he kicked at the ground--"then I guess I should believe you."

With -- signifying em-dashes. No spaces or commas involved.
Oops! I messed up You’re right about this. Since that’s an action, there shouldn’t be commas. Thanks for catching that. That’ll teach me to double-check before I hit submit

I’ll edit my post so anyone scanning down the posts doesn’t try to copy that part and do the wrong thing.
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Old 01-05-2013, 12:44 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post


Is it like this:

"How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." he snarled.

or this

-- You don't even understand me", he snarled.

I'm aware this problem can be circumvented by splitting the line into two parts in this manner:

"How could you be better than me?" he snarled. "You don't even understand me".
In the US, it would be this way:

You don't even understand me," he said.

"How could you be better than me?" he asked. "You don't even understand me."

"How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." He turned and walked away.

(People don't actual snarl their words, so that's a dialogue tag you might want to avoid.)
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Old 01-05-2013, 12:45 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post

Only ? and ! go inside the quotation marks.
In the US, the period and comma also go inside.
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Old 01-05-2013, 12:48 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dorky View Post
“Speech”—action—“continuation of speech.”
In published books, I've often seen it this way:

"Speech--", tag, "--speech."

This may come down to the publisher's house style.
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Old 01-05-2013, 12:59 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BethS View Post
(People don't actual snarl their words, so that's a dialogue tag you might want to avoid.)
This is off topic, but is snarling not always a more or less figurative verb when we talk of people? Only certain animals can snarl in the literal sense of the word. As the figurativeness of the term is clear in this context, I would contend that it is possible to use it as a metaphorical dialogue tag for aggressive speech, and I believe I have seen it a few times in literature. I may be wrong of course, but I would like to hear what others think.

e: My apologies, I should have used Google first. I was under the impression that snarling referred to a certain type of high-pitched growling, but I was wrong. It would appear it instead refers to a certain facial expression. My mistake, thank you for pointing it out.
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:37 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post
Hello, a question from fresh meat to you all. I've been troubling myself with a techical detail about how to write dialogue using open quote markings. When finishing a line with a period and following it with a speaker tag, should the period be removed or left in as is commonly done with exclamation and question marks?

Example:

Is it like this:

"How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." he snarled.

or this

-- You don't even understand me", he snarled.

I'm aware this problem can be circumvented by splitting the line into two parts in this manner:

"How could you be better than me?" he snarled. "You don't even understand me".

...but I would like to know if there are clear rules for this. English is not my first language, so I may not have a clear idea of all the very basics native speakers learn in schools. I would appreciate it if you could point me in the direction of a reliable database of English grammar for future reference in such matters.
If you want the character to snarl the words out, so that "he snarled" is a dialog tag, you would write it:

"How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me," he snarled.

Be aware that people don't "snarl" words very often, and more than very occasional use of non-standard dialog tags can feel repetitive and intrusive.

If the snarling is meant to be an action that immediately follows the character's words, you'd write:

"How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." He snarled.

If you want to put the tag (or action) before the dialog, you'd do it like this:

He snarled, "How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." if "snarled" is a dialog tag.

or


He snarled. "How could you be better than me? You don't even understand me." if "snarled" is a connected action but he's not snarling the words out.
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Old 01-05-2013, 11:39 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BethS View Post
In the US, the period and comma also go inside.
Beth, not when followed by a dialogue tag. For example:
"Sure I remember the day when the boa ate your poodle," John said nodding his head.

It does when the quoted sentence is not followed by a tag.

John looked at her, "That was also the day we thought the boa swallowed the mailman."
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Old 01-05-2013, 05:30 PM   #20
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Old 01-06-2013, 01:53 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post
Beth, not when followed by a dialogue tag. For example:
"Sure I remember the day when the boa ate your poodle," John said nodding his head.
Ummm...what am I missing? You just proved my point. Commas and periods go inside the quotation marks.

And in your example, there should also be a comma following "said."
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Old 01-06-2013, 02:09 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post
Beth, not when followed by a dialogue tag. For example:
"Sure I remember the day when the boa ate your poodle," John said nodding his head.

It does when the quoted sentence is not followed by a tag.

John looked at her, "That was also the day we thought the boa swallowed the mailman."
First one: "Sure. I remember the day when the boa ate your poodle," John said, nodding his head.

-OR-

"Sure, I remember the day when the boa ate your poodle," John said, nodding his head.

(On the first one, you can use a period after "sure" to create a little more tension by having the speaker pause longer.)

Second: John looked at her. "That was also the day we thought the boa swallowed the mailman."
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Old 01-06-2013, 03:11 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by BenPanced View Post
John looked at her. "That was also the day we thought the boa swallowed the mailman."
A red letter day!

(Sorry, couldn't resist...)
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Old 01-06-2013, 05:46 PM   #24
Corinne Duyvis
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Originally Posted by BethS View Post
In published books, I've often seen it this way:

"Speech--", tag, "--speech."

This may come down to the publisher's house style.
That's so odd--I've been paying close attention to this in every book I've read lately and haven't seen that construction anywhere, just the one with the em-dashes outside of the dialogue. I'm not saying you're wrong, but it does make me wonder which publishers prefer this style.
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:03 PM   #25
Bufty
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"Dialogue," George said, "can vary enormously in how it is punctuated."

"Dialogue." George sighed. "Punctuate it any way you choose. Aim for clarity."

"There's four -" she gulped, hand to her throat, and recovered - "four dead horses in there. And millions of flies..."

The last example is from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and whether or not anyone else or their publisher would punctuate it differently, it's perfectly clear to read.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Corinne Duyvis View Post
That's so odd--I've been paying close attention to this in every book I've read lately and haven't seen that construction anywhere, just the one with the em-dashes outside of the dialogue. I'm not saying you're wrong, but it does make me wonder which publishers prefer this style.
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Last edited by Bufty; 01-06-2013 at 07:32 PM. Reason: It would help if I closed the quotes! Doh!
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