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Quality Quotations

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Quotation marks can be used two ways. Not just for dialogue, but also for "coined" terms and phrases. There is always punctuation before and after dialogue, but not always for "coined" terms and phrases. There's a couple rules for dialogue specifically:

Always capitalize the first letter when someone starts speaking. Unless continuing the quote and identifying the speaker in the middle of the sentence. Like this:

"It has been a rough season," said the coach, "let's all go out for pizza."

When identifying the speaker after the quote, a comma (not a period) should end the quote. It can improve the flow of the dialogue to not identify the speaker all the time. On the other hand, sometimes identifying the speaker keeps the reader from becoming confused, and allows for description. The next letter should not be capitalized unless it's a proper noun.

Example of identifying the speaker following a quotation:

"I will now speak from the book of Genesis," said the pastor.


These are NOT correct:

  • "I will now speak from the book of Genesis." Said the pastor.
  • "I will now speak from the book of Genesis," Said the pastor.



Example of a proper noun following a quotation:

  • "Fix my car, sir, and I'll give you a hundred bucks," Sally said.


These are NOT correct:

  • "Fix my car, sir, and I'll give you a hundred bucks." Sally said.
  • "Fix my car, sir, and I'll give you a hundred bucks.", Sally said.


For dialogue, a new paragraph for each speaker is proper. It helps the reader. That way, there's no need for additional punctuation between pieces of dialogue.

These are NOT correct:

  • “I don't know if they're ever coming back." "Maybe that's a good thing," said the salesman.
  • “I don't know if they're ever coming back.", "Maybe that's a good thing," said the salesman.
  • “I don't know if they're ever coming back,". "Maybe that's a good thing," said the salesman.


This is correct:

“I don't know if they're ever coming back."
"Maybe that's a good thing," said the salesman.


Then, there's double quotes, when the speaker repeats a phrase or sentence used by another character, or uses a "coined" term. As with all quotations, if you're partially quoting someone, there's no need to capitalize the first letter of the quotation, or add a comma/period/semi-colon/em-dash/or colon before and after. Like #1. When the second quotation ends the sentence, add a space between the single quotation mark and double quotation mark. Like #2:

  • "Are you really qualified for the position, considering you only have 'three months experience' sir?"
  • "I was standing on the precipice, and he tells me, 'Don't worry we haven't had an accident on this rock-face since 1997.' "


Thoughts fall into the same category as dialogue, yet the quotation marks can be left off, and they can be italicized or not. There still should be a comma, semi-colon, em-dash, or colon to separate the thought and identifying the thinker.

These are all correct:

  • "That is such a beautiful painting," I thought.
  • I wonder how long it took to paint, I thought.
  • "And such an exquisite array of texture and color," I thought.


Now for "coined" terms and phrases, which follow the same rules as titles of books, songs, articles, names of stores, titles of places, and the like. For the proper flow, they do not require a comma or period before or after.

A "coined" term:

  • Walking up to the plate, I had to remember to "keep my cool" and swing for the fences.

A name of a store/title of a place. These do not require quotation, but can be used optionally (often, italics are more appropriate, with leaving off the quotation marks):

  • We were walking to "Genevieve's Jewelry Shop" when I started feeling unsettled.

These are all correct:

  • We were supposed to meet at the subway station. I was listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana.
  • We were supposed to meet at the subway station. I was listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.
  • We were supposed to meet at the subway station. I was listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana.


Punctuation necessary to emphasize breaks should be used. Like this:

  • We were supposed to meet at the subway station. I was listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which is my favorite song, by Nirvana.

Or, punctuation can be used to separate a list of these titles/names/coined terms.

  • She was reading three different articles, from "The New York Times," "People's Digest," and "National Geographic."


A widely used style allows for these titles/names/coined terms to be punctuated outside of the quotation. Essentially, preserving the most accurate title/name/coined terms. To be clear, this is not acceptable for dialogue.

  • She was reading three different articles, from "The New York Times", "People's Digest", and "National Geographic".
  • We were supposed to meet at the subway station. I was listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which is my favorite song, by Nirvana.


Almost at the finish line, there are also messages on signs, bulletins, written on a wall (a lot of times), or notes, etc. These should be punctuated the same way as dialogue.

Like this:

  • When we got to the village, there was a shop with a sign, "The Enchanted Emporium."


Lastly, there's the colon and the em-dash (—). Click the "more +" button on the top of the editing screen—under the title of the page—to use this bad boy. The colon should only be used when there's no verb indicating speaking, writing or reading, etc. Always and only before a quotation. Observe:

  • The minister stood at the pulpit: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
  • The words stabbed me like a dagger: "Turn Back Now."


The em-dash indicates a sudden turn or twist, with dialogue, it can be used to abruptly pause the speaker—and, no—this wild beast should not be used rarely, in fact, it should be used more (appropriately), because standard sentences are giving me headaches. Or—ahem—for switching between dialogue and narrative. Whenever a comma would suffice, it should be used instead, but with this rebel on the run it's usually pretty obvious when it's used correctly. Now, for the examples:

  • "I was talking to him about the cities listed on the documents—Chicago, Illinois. Charlotte, South Carolina. Miami, Florida. San Jose, California—which have all been given instruction on emergency protocol, and he told me that he would need some time to talk to the head of the branch before talking further."
  • "He was cleaning his fingernails"—which left me feeling nauseous—"and then horridly spit one into the air."
  • "That is where you'll be sleeping while you're here, and that is the stables are that you'll be working in—" he sharply turns to face me, and without saying anything, soon resumes the tour like nothing happened "—and that's the barn, over there..."

The em-dash used before the quotation mark denotes a literal pause by the speaker, while the em-dash used after the quotation gives a more literary pause.

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