Writing Dialogue

How to correctly write dialogue in your essay

Writing and Correctly Punctuating Dialogue

Dialogue is used in writing to convey a person's thoughts and feelings, as well as what was said. See below for the rules to correct;y punctuate dialogue.

A speaker tag is a phrase that identifies the person who is talking. Some examples of speaker tags are: John said, Ted cried loudly, answered Jane (Clemmons, J., & Laase, L., 1995).

Rules for Writing Dialogue

  • Put quotation marks around the speaker's exact words.

Wrong: That's funny!" Molly cried.

Correct: "That's funny!" Molly cried.

  • Capitalize the first word the speaker says.

Wrong: Wilson said, "let's eat.

Correct: Wilson said, "Let's eat."

  • Put end marks inside of quotation marks.

Wrong: "I'm back"! Wally announced.

Correct: "I'm back!" Wally announced.

  • If the dialogue is first, a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point comes after it (note: not a period).

Wrong: "Yes, said Bo, "That is correct."

Correct: "Yes, said Bo, "that is correct."

  • When the dialogue is first and the speaker tag is last, the dialogue is followed by a comma and not by a period unless it is a question or an exclamation.

Wrong: "Take a turn right here." Jessie said.

Correct: "Take a turn right here," Jessie said.


Correct: "I'm here!" Wally said.

Correct: "Where are we going?" Theresa asked.

  • When the speaker tag is last in the sentence, it is followed by a period.

Wrong: "Where did you go?" Bob asked

Correct: "Where did you go? Bob asked.

Change paragraphs when you change speakers.

“No,” said Squiggly. “I don’t want to go.”

“I don’t care what you think. I want you to come,”

Aardvark insisted.

Squiggly pulled his arm out of Aardvark’s hand.

“No! No! No!” Squiggly paused before continuing.

“You never listen to me!”

(Fogarty, M., & Haya, E, 2011, p. 139).

You usually use commas to introduce dialogue with tags such as he said and she asked (Fogarty, M., & Haya, E, 2011).

Aardvark asked, "Who stole the chocolate?" (p. 112)

When you write dialogue, dashes can be used to show an interruption of thought or change of direction (Fogarty, M., & Haya, E, 2011).

"Um...my brother really likes you. He said you should--Look! An ice cream truck!" (p. 124)

Avoid using said too much in your writing. Here are some suggestions to use in place of said: cried / asked / called / uttered / remarked / whispered / shouted / answered / thought /replied / repeated (Clemmons, J., & Laase, L., 1995).

Keep your own “instead of said” list in your Writer's Notebook.


Clemmons, J., & Laase, L. (1995). Language arts mini-lessons: Step-by-step skill-builders for your classroom. New York, NY: Scholastic Professional Books.

Fogarty, M., & Haya, E. (2011). Grammar Girl presents the ultimate writing guide for students. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Greenberg, D. (2000). Comic-strip grammar: 40 reproducible cartoons with engaging practice exercises that make learning grammar fun. New York: Scholastic Professional Books.