Daily Archives: March 2, 2010

Punctuating Dialogue Tags


Most mistakes occur in punctuating dialogue, when adding the direct quote – “I’m not ill.” to the tag he said, she screamed, they chanted.

The rules are as follows:-

  • Use a COMMA to separate the quote from the tag.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill,” she said.

  • Use a FULL STOP to separate the quote from the tag if there is no speech verb.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill.”  She glared at him.

As there is no speech verb, the tag is considered to be a separate sentence.

  • If the quote ends with an exclamation or question mark, you don’t need to add any further punctuation.  And if the quote is followed by a tag, there is no capital letter at the start of it.  Eg:- “I’m not ill, you’re lying!” she shouted.

BUT when the tag doesn’t have a speech verb, you need to treat it as a separate sentence.  Eg:-  “Am I ill?”  She started crying.

  • If the tag interrupts in mid-sentence, use commas to surround it.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill,” she said, “and I wish you’d stop telling me I am.”

  • However, if the tag separates two sentences, use a FULL STOP and CAPITALS at the start of each sentence.

Eg:- “I’m not ill,” she said.  “Just mind your own business.”


“I’m not ill.”  She said, “Just mind your own business.”

The second example here sounds a little more awkward because these days, we generally put the tag line at the end of the quote.

  • If the tag doesn’t contain a speech verb, consider it a separate sentence.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill.”  She glared at him.  “Just mind your own business.

Remember, the words ‘smiled’, ‘laughed’, ‘grinned’, etc… are not speech verbs.  You cannot ‘smile’ a sentence.  “I’m not ill.”  She smiled.  “But it’s sweet of you to care.”