RedPen Editing
Punctuation in dialogue

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Conventions for punctuating dialogue are different in the USA; what I’m suggesting here only applies to UK publications.

Placing the quote marks

The spoken text is enclosed within quote marks. This includes any final punctuation.

‘Hi, there. My name is Mary. I am your tour guide for today.’

The punctuation for the spoken text as ‘as normal’ except in these cases:

  • The final full stop may be replaced by a comma if a speech tag follows.
    ‘After you,’ he said, opening the door for Mary.
    Notice that the comma appears before the closing quote mark.
  • If the speech tag is surrounded by dialogue, use a comma after the tag.
    ‘What! Do you mean to suggest,’ said Mary, gripping her briefcase even tighter, ‘that I lead the way?’

Fragmented sentences

People talk in fragmented ways – not necessarily full grammatically correct sentences. How you punctuate this is up to you! Compare these two:

  • ‘Hi, Harry. Let me check.’ Kate consulted her diary. ‘Yes. Ten o’clock suits me. Yes. No. Fine.’
  • ‘Hi, Harry. … Let me check.’ Kate consulted her diary. ‘Yes. Ten o’clock suits me. … Yes. … No. … Fine.’

The second version tries to convey a passing of time while Kate listens to what is being said to her on the phone.


Most people contract words when they speak, so this should be mirrored in your dialogue. An apostrophe is used to indicate missing letters.

  • ‘Hi! I’m Mary. Pleased to meet you.’
  • ‘Miss! This coffee’s cold. Can you fetch me a fresh one?’
  • I’ll be right over, ma’am.’