How to Punctuate Quotations in Statements

To write proper English, you need to follow all the punctuation rules, even the illogical ones. Punctuation with quotations gives many people problems. Here you look at the proper punctuation for statements in quotations with and without speaker tags.

Quotations with speaker tags

Dumb rule 1: When the speaker tag comes first, put a comma after the speaker tag. The period at the end of the sentence goes inside the quotation marks.

The gang remarked, “Lola’s candidate is a sure bet.”
Lola replied, “He's not my candidate.”

Dumb rule 2: When the speaker tag comes last, put a comma inside the quotation marks and a period at the end of the sentence.

“Lola’s candidate isn’t a sure bet now,” the gang continued.
“I support a different candidate,” screamed Lola.

Now you know the first two (of far too many) quotation rules. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter where you put the speaker tag as long as you punctuate the sentence correctly.

Sometimes a speaker tag lands in the middle of a sentence.

“I think I’ll sue,” Betsy explained, “for emotional distress.”
“You can’t imagine,” she added, “what I felt.”

In each of these sample sentences, the speaker tag interrupts the quotation. Time for some more dumb rules for interrupted quotations.

Dumb rule 3: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the comma is inside the quotation marks for the first half of a quotation.

Dumb rule 4: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the speaker tag is followed by a comma before the quotation marks.

Dumb rule 5: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the period at the end of the sentence is inside the quotation marks.

Dumb rule 6: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the second half of a quotation does not begin with a capital letter.

When you plop a speaker tag right in the middle of someone’s conversation, make sure that you don’t create a run-on sentence:

Wrong: “When you move a piano, you must be careful,” squeaked Al, “I could have been killed.”
Right: “When you move a piano, you must be careful,” squeaked Al. “I could have been killed.”

Remove the speaker tag and check the quoted material. What is left? Enough for half a sentence? That’s okay. Quoted material doesn’t need to express a complete thought. Enough material for one sentence? Also okay. Enough material for two sentences? Not okay, unless you write two sentences.

Quotations without speaker tags

Not all sentences with quotations include speaker tags. The punctuation and capitalization rules for these sentences are a little different, though not more logical than other types of quotation rules. Check out these examples:

According to the blurb on the book jacket, Anna’s history of geometry is said to be “thrilling and unbelievable” by all who read it.
When Michael said that the book “wasn’t as exciting as watching paint dry,” Anna threw a pie in his face.

Dumb rule 7: If the quotation doesn’t have a speaker tag, the first word of the quotation is not capitalized.

Dumb rule 8: No comma separates the quotation from the rest of the sentence if the quotation doesn’t have a speaker tag.

Actually, rules 7 and 8 aren’t completely dumb. Quotations without speaker tags aren’t set off from the sentence; they’re tucked into the sentence. You don’t want to put a capital letter in the middle of the sentence, which is where nonspeaker-tag quotations usually end up. Also, omitting the comma preserves the flow of the sentence.

Notice that quotations without speaker tags tend to be short. If you’re reporting a lengthy statement, you’re probably better off with a speaker tag and the complete quotation. If you want to extract only a few, relevant words from someone’s speech, you can probably do without a speaker tag.

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