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Working With Direct Speech and Quotations

Fitting dialogue into stories and interviews, and quotes into essays and articles, requires specialist knowledge of punctuation. To get an idea of how to fit speech and quotes into your writing you could do worse than study published books to see how it is done. However, this article will provide a quick run-down of the basics for reference.

Quotation or Speech?

direct speech or quotations

The rules are different for direct speech and quotations, so which is which? Direct speech, which is used a lot in fiction, is spoken language written down as if it were a real overheard conversation. Words such as "he said" and "she asked" are used to signify who is speaking to whom. An example would be:

"Hi Sophie," said John.

"Hi John, how are you?" inquired Sophie.

Quotations can be sweet but they are not a conversation, but are things other people said or wrote which illustrate or back up a point the writer is making. They are often slotted into a sentence so that only the inverted commas tell the reader that another writer is being quoted. For example:

Lord Byron was "mad, bad and dangerous to know" according to of one of his lovers.

Commas in Direct Speech

The important thing to remember is commas!! This is the main form of punctuation used to fit dialogue into text. If the speech comes after the information about who is speaking, a comma is used before the speech starts:

Bertie slowly growled, "Don't even think about it!"

No extra punctuation is needed after the inverted commas, because the full stop (or exclamation mark or question mark) which comes inside the inverted commas finished the sentence.

If the speech comes first and then the information about who has spoken, a comma is used at the end of the speech before the inverted commas Even if it is at the end of a sentence:

"I don't think I'll go to work today," Graham said.

The exception to this is if the speech is a question, when you would use a question mark instead of a comma, or when an exclamation mark is required:

"I'm not going!" Graham shouted.

"Why should I go to work?" Graham asked.

(Note that there is no question marked after "asked" because "Graham asked" is not a question, it is a statement.)

Often, the speech is broken up by the information about who spoke. In this case, a comma ends the first bit of speech (inside the inverted commas) and then another comma comes before the second bit of speech (outside the inverted commas):

"Well in that case," Nina snapped, "I'm not going either."

Starting a New Line in Dialogue

A piece of direct speech should always start on a new line. Each time the speaker changes, a new line is used.

"My goodness, what a beautiful day!" remarked Sally.

"I agree," said Leonard, "It's remarkable."

Sally joked, "Well this is California! What do you expect?"

It is not necessary to start a new paragraph (i.e. to indent, or leave a spare line), just to start a new line.

Using Quotations

using quotes in your writing

As mentioned above, quotations can be slotted in to sentence without adding the extra commas which are needed in speech, e.g.

Thomas Hardy’s work is “a welter of sentiment” despite its classic status.2

It is not necessary to say in the sentence who said or wrote the words quoted if footnotes are being used. Instead, a number would be inserted into the text at the end of the sentence, outside the final punctuation, and the information would be given at the foot of the page.

Longer quotations take a different form from shorter ones. When the quote is more than a couple of lines long, then the inverted commas are dropped and instead the whole of the quote is indented. In this case a footnote can be used, as for shorter quotes, or the information can be given in brackets afterwards. Alternatively, the necessary information can be given before the quote starts:

St Paul speaks convincingly of the deity of Christ in Philippians chapter two.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider

equality with God something to be grasped but

made himself nothing.

Summary of Rules for Quotations and Direct Speech

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~ DJames Capella ~