How to Punctuate Dialogue

In our last blog posts about writing tips we gave advice on how to write good dialogue and how to use dialogue tags. Today, we want to blog about how to punctuate dialogue.

Every writer should be able to punctuate dialogue correctly, yet we still get a lot of submissions with incorrect use of punctuation in dialogues.  We hope this blog post will help you figure out how to punctuate dialogues.

  • If a line of dialogue stands alone, without a dialogue tag, the closing quotation mark follows the other punctuation.


“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”


  • If a line of dialogue is followed by a dialogue tag, use a comma (or a question mark or exclamation mark) before the closing quotation mark. That’s true even if the line of dialogue is a complete sentence. 


Incorrect: “I have no idea.” Marcy said.

Correct: “I have no idea,” Marcy said.

Correct: “Stop!” Betty shouted.

Correct: “Are you out of your mind?” Peter asked.

  • If the dialogue tag precedes the line of dialogue, use a comma before the opening quotation mark.


She opened the door and called, “Hello? Anyone home?”

  • If the dialogue tag divides a line of dialogue, use a comma before the first closing quotation mark and after the dialogue tag.


“I wouldn’t have forgotten the appointment,” Judy said, “if you had reminded me in time.”

  • If the dialogue tag follows a complete sentence and the character continues speaking after the tag, use a period after the dialogue tag.


“I have no idea where Thomas is,” Judy said. “I haven’t seen him all day.”

  • Use a dash to indicate that a line of dialogue is interrupted or breaks off abruptly.


“It wasn’t my—”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses.”

  • Use suspension points (an ellipsis) to indicate that the dialogue is trailing off.


“Tina and I haven’t …” She rubbed her eyes. “We’re not a couple.”

  • Use exclamation marks sparingly. If your dialogue is strong and your descriptions vivid, you don’t need exclamation marks to tell us that your character is upset.

It’s easy once you figure it out. Let us know if you have any questions.

Happy writing!

Your Ylva Team.

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About the Author : Astrid Ohletz

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