Don’t Talk Like That: Quotes and Paragraphs

Two heads facing each other with books inset in each
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Hi SErs! Harmony here ๐Ÿ™‚

Today, I’d like to take another look at dialogue. Because this is such a large topic, I have spread the topic over a few posts. As the post title suggests, we’ll look at quotes and paragraphs with dialogue today.

First up, the type of quotes you use for dialogue will change depending upon what country’s format you adhere to. American writers will use double quote marks (“) while British writers will use single quote marks (‘). Whichever style you use, if you need to quote within dialogue, you will ALWAYS switch to the other style to encase the quote. See below for an example …

Kenny shook his head. ‘No, he said I should “take care of the problem”. What do you think?’

Above, I show the British way. Below, I show the American way …

Kenny shook his head. “No, he said I should ‘take care of the problem.’ What do you think?”

Did you notice the difference in where the full stop (period) is placed? In “American,” you place all punctuation, except question marks, inside the quote. In ‘English’, you place all punctuation outside the quote. Just to keep things confusing! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Below is an example outside of dialogue to show this more clearly:

We know much, but only through insight and feeling, not through mathematical or scientific โ€˜proofโ€™. (The British way.)

We know much, but only through insight and feeling, not through mathematical or scientific “proof.” (The American way.)

While this next point is obvious to seasoned writers, it bears mentioning for newbies: Each separate speaker gets their own paragraph. They NEVER share the same line. Always put in a hard return to separate them out. This gives the readers a clear indication that the speaker has switched to another character. Using open and closed quote marks alone is never enough. See my previous posts for examples of two or more speakers.

Sometimes, we need to write a lengthy section of dialogue–when telling a story or recounting something, for example. In this situation, we would break the dialogue into paragraphs to avoid full pages of solid text. Each time we break a paragraph, we need to insert an opening quote mark at the start of the paragraph, but we do not put in a closing quote until the speaker has finished talking. See below …

“I’ll tell you what happened. Jenny went to the store to get the stuff, but then Dave saw her, and he grabbed her and took her to his place. I follwed them, but he has his goons everywhere, man. I couldn’t get anywhere near. Jenny kept yelling and everything. Then things got real quiet.

“I waited for a long time, man, honest. Then I came back here. That’s everything. I swear. I ain’t holdin’ out on ya. Man, please. You gotta beleive me. I told you all I know. So, what do we do now?”

Above, I have shown this example using American style quote marks. British writers would put in single quote marks where I have shown the doubles above.

Remember: The quote marks change depending on what country’s style you are using. Also, a quote within a quote (or dialogue) always needs the alternate style of quote marks to encase it. The main thing is to keep it consistent. If you start with one style, then keep that style throughout, unless you have a quote within a quote.

The take-away from all of this is to enusre each speaker gets their own line. Any section of dialogue has opening and closing quote marks to denote the beginning and end of speech. The only exception to that rule is where the dialogue is broken into paragraphs for the same speaker, as shown above. As I said in my previous dialogue posts: Before we break the rules, we need to know the rules, and we only break them if we have a valid reason to do so to enhance our artistic expression in writing.

That’s it from me for today. I hope you find this post useful. And I’ll see you again on June 25th ๐Ÿ™‚

Post One: Name Dropping can be found HERE.

Post Two: Tags and Beats can be found HERE.

Post Three: Punctuation can be found HERE.

Post Four: Talking Heads can be found HERE.

ยฉ2021 Harmony Kent

53 thoughts on “Don’t Talk Like That: Quotes and Paragraphs

  1. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – This Week on #StoryEmpire | The Write Stuff

  2. Pingback: Story Empire Weekly Round Up @StoryEmpire #WritingCommunity @dlfinnauthor @Virgilante @harmony_kent | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  3. A fantastic lesson, Harmony. I too did not realize the difference between American and British punctuation. Great to know when reading books from around the globe. But this statement threw me: “In โ€œAmerican,โ€ you place all punctuation, except question marks, inside the quote.” I do put ? inside quotes and so does my editor. So, this is new to me. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Jan. For quotes (not dialogue) the question mark, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, goes outside the quotes. For dialogue, no matter the nationality, all punctuation goes inside the quotes. Thanks for your lovely comment ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. I find myself reading more and more British authors. The first time I saw those single quotation marks I was surprised. Then I realized it’s done differently across the pond. My nephew (American) is now writing a YA novel with British characters and is following the UK standard for punctuation. I told him to think more about who his readers are going to be rather that the nationality of his characters. Especially, because the book that follows won’t be set in England. He’s just starting out and finds the whole thing confusing. I wonder why, LOL!

    Thanks for the informative post, Harmony!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’m hyperventilating! When I were a young ‘un in the UK we were taught to use 66s and 99s for speech marks – ie, double ones. It was only about three years ago that I discovered we’d moved to 6s and 9s. I dug out my Philip Pullman and the old copies were written with double speech marks, the recent Book of Dust (2019) with single ones. I’ve retrained to default to the single ones now but I don’t think most people notice.
    Then I came to your piece about the comma going after the speech marks and I felt a fit of the vapours coming on! I’ve checked with a couple of sources online and they make the distinctions that you do, however The Guardian Style guide uses the (old!) American format as does the BBC Bitesize advice for schools. I’ve had a look in the new Philip Pullman and he follows the pattern of ‘There he goes,’ he said. I think that as long as I keep to the ‘change of person speaking/new line’ rule I’ll keep on going with the punctuation with which I’m comfortable. There’s a saying about old dogs and new tricks…

    Liked by 2 people

    • The โ€˜There he goes,โ€™ he said is correct. The punctuation only goes outside the quote marks in the UK if itโ€™s a quote. I, too, was taught the old way and had to relearn … the same with only one character space after a full stop instead of the old way of leaving two, lols. As long as you stay consistent throughout the whole book, youโ€™ll be fine. Thanks, Alex ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phew! This was the first thing I found:


        (Users of American English are advised to skip this section to avoid confusing the issue.)

        Users of British English place the comma in the following sentence outside the quotation marks.

        "Hello", said John.

        Incidentally, the comma is used to separate what was said from who said it. Here’s another example:

        "Hello", he said. "How are you today?"

        And this is on the Capstone Editing site:
        In the example below, โ€˜he saidโ€™ is the carrier sentence for the quotation:

        โ€˜I will wait until you returnโ€™, he said.
        I can cope with the difference when quoting someone within speech, but this was a step too far! Thanks for clarifying, Harmony! x


      • Those examples are just plain erroneous. We have to be so careful what online sources we use. Never put the comma after the quote mark for dialogue. Whoever wrote those examples doesnโ€™t understand British usage at all, unfortunately. Glad I could clarify, Alex ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s funny. I recently read a book written by a British author and I was about halfway through the book before I noticed single quotations rather than double. I had no idea British writers did that until I asked you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: Donโ€™t Talk Like That: Quotes and Paragraphs | Legends of Windemere

  8. Super review, Harmony. I was pleased to see I pretty much follow the conventions. The one mistake I see quite often is where there are two speakers in the same paragraph. It is very confusing when that occurs. Well done. Thank you,

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Maybe I was meant to be British. I never feel right putting the punctuation inside the quotes.

    Thanks for taking us through this series. Punctuation errors can cause people (the ones who recognize them) to be distracted from your story.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Informative post, Harmony ๐Ÿ™‚ I knew about the single and double quotes, but I didn’t about the outside punctuation for British writing. I learned something new:)

    Liked by 3 people

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s