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Rated: 13+ | Book | Writing | #890221
A library featuring commonly committed errors of the English language.
#369110 added April 3, 2007 at 5:45pm
Restrictions: None
Dialogue
Dialogue tags are the phrases around dialogue that clarify who is speaking and possibly how and to whom that person is speaking as well.

*Note* “The following is an example of a dialogue tag.” He instructed.

That example is not grammatically correct, though. First of all, a period never comes before a dialogue tag, even when the quoted material is a complete sentence. If the preceding dialogue poses a question, then use a question mark. If the preceding dialogue is an exclamation, then use an exclamation mark. If the preceding dialogue is neither a question nor an exclamation, then you should generally use a comma, but an ellipsis could also be used in some circumstances. (For more information on ellipses, see "Ellipses.) Each line in the following exchange uses correct punctuation:

“What is a dialogue tag?” She asked.
“It’s the words after this exclamation point!” He yelled.
“You don’t need to scream,” she chided him.

However, the first two of those lines are still wrong in another way. Normally, in writing, the first word after a question mark or exclamation mark is capitalized, but that’s not the case with a dialogue tag. Regardless of the punctuation mark immediately preceding a dialogue tag, the first word of a dialogue tag begins with a lowercase letter—unless, of course, it’s a proper noun that would be capitalized in any other situation. Here is that short exchange again, this time with correct punctuation and capitalization.

“What is a dialogue tag?” she asked.
“It’s the words after this exclamation point!” he yelled.
“You don’t need to scream,” she chided him.

In the third line, if you had positioned the tag before the dialogue (or used no tag at all), you would have placed a period instead of a comma at the end of the quote, like this:

*Note* She informed him, “You don’t need to scream.”

Things are a bit more complicated when the tag appears in the middle of one person’s speech. If the dialogue on either side of the tag would have belonged to the same sentence without the dialogue tag, the first word of the second section of dialogue shouldn’t be capitalized, and it should always follow a comma:

*Note* “A dialogue tag,” he informed her, “can also appear within a line of dialogue.”

If the two sections of dialogue are parts of different sentences for the speaker, the first word of the second section of dialogue should always be capitalized. It will usually follow a period, but a comma can work on occasion.

*Note* “Dialogue tags can appear in any part of the sentence,” he noted. “Some come before dialogue, others are in its midst, and the rest follow.”
*Note* “Dialogue tags can appear in any part of the sentence,” he noted, elaborating by saying, “Some come before dialogue, others are in its midst, and the rest follow.”

Internal dialogue, by which I mean characters “speaking” to themselves inside their heads in a story otherwise told from the third-person perspective, follows the same punctuation and capitalization rules as external dialogue but doesn’t use quotation marks. Instead, internal dialogue is typically italicized.

*Note* This is internal dialogue, he thought to himself
*Note* “This is not internal dialogue,” he thought to himself out loud.
© Copyright 2007 Road Trip Kraken (UN: kraken at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Road Trip Kraken has granted Writing.Com, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.
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