Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Ten Rules of Quoted Speech

Quoted speech is a really important part of narrative writing, and you will probably also be using quoted speech in other writing that you do for school. Because quoted speech means you put one sentence inside another, there are special rules of punctuation and capitalization. If you follow the ten rules below, you will be able to use all the different quotation options, choosing whatever option works best for your writing. There are some other uses of quotation marks in English, such as "scare quotes" and the use of quotation marks with the titles of short works, like short stories or poems (Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," for example). Some of those other uses of quotation marks have different rules than the rules listed below. If you are looking for more information about all the different uses of quotation marks in English, Purdue OWL's Quotation Mark pages are very useful.


Rule #1: Use quotation marks for all direct speech. 

When someone's words are repeated exactly as that person said or wrote them, you must put those words in quotation marks. This style is called "direct speech" because you are quoting the words directly, exactly as the words were spoken:
  • The hare said, "I will challenge the tortoise to a race."
Direct speech is not limited to words that are spoken out loud or written down. You should also report someone's thoughts as direct speech inside quotation marks:
  • The hare thought, "I know I can beat the tortoise easily!"
When the words are not quoted directly, that is "indirect speech." When you use indirect speech, you do not use quotation marks. Quotation marks are used for direct speech, not for indirect speech. Compare these examples of direct speech to examples of indirect speech, and you will see that they are very different:
  • Direct Speech. The hare said, "I will challenge the tortoise to a race."
  • Indirect Speech. The hare said that he would challenge the tortoise to a race.
  • Direct Speech. The hare thought, "I know I can beat the tortoise easily!"
  • Indirect Speech. The hare thought that he could beat the tortoise easily.
As you can see, direct speech is often much more lively and vivid than indirect speech.


Rule #2: Quotation marks are used in pairs. 

There is an "opening" quotation mark that comes before the first word of the quoted speech, and then there is a "closing" quotation mark that comes after the last word of the quoted speech.
  • The hare said to the tortoise, "You are so slow that I will beat you very easily."
In some fonts, you can see a slightly different shape used for the opening and closing quotation marks:
  • The hare said to the tortoise, “You are so slow that I will beat you very easily.”
This style is sometimes called "smart quotes," and it is usually a feature you can turn on or off in your word processor based on which style you prefer.


Rule #3: The first word of a quoted sentence is capitalized. 

In quoted speech, just as in other forms of writing, you capitalize the first word of every sentence. Here is an example:
  • "When should we do it?" asked the tortoise.
Here's what can be tricky: you also capitalize the first word of the quoted sentence even when it is being inserted inside another sentence. Here's an example:
  • The tortoise asked, "When should we do it?"
The word "When" is capitalized because it is the first word of a quoted sentence, even though it is not the first word of the main sentence.


Rule #4: You can include multiple sentences inside a single set of quotation marks. 

As long as the character is speaking, you can keep on quoting those words inside the same set of quotation marks. Here is an example where there are three sentences inside the quotation marks:
  • The hare said to the tortoise, "You are so slow that I will beat you very easily. In fact, I feel sorry for you because you are so slow. I know I will defeat you!"
The opening quotation mark shows where the hare started speaking, and the closing quotation mark showed where the hare stopped speaking.


Rule #5: When the QUOTED SPEECH comes AFTER the verb of speaking, you use a comma after the verb of speaking and before the quoted speech. 

Here's an example that shows quoted speech after the verb of speaking, with a comma between the verb of speaking and the quoted speech:
  • The hare said to the tortoise, "I challenge you to a race!"
Here is another example that shows the verb of speaking first and the quoted speech coming after the verb of speaking:
  • The tortoise replied, "I accept your challenge."
This use of the comma helps the reader by signaling the break between the main sentence and the quoted speech.


Rule #6: When the QUOTED SPEECH comes BEFORE the verb of speaking and the final sentence of the quoted speech ends with a PERIOD, you replace the period at the end of the final quoted sentence with a comma. 

Here is an example where the quoted speech, ending with a period, comes before the verb of speaking. The period at the end of the quoted speech changes to a comma:
  • "I accept your challenge," the tortoise replied.
The original quoted sentence ended with a period: "I accept your challenge." When the quoted speech is put before that verb of speaking, you replace the final period of the quoted speech with a comma. This rule only applies to quoted sentences that end with a period. For sentences that end with a question mark or with an exclamation mark, see the next rule.


Rule #7: When the QUOTED SPEECH comes BEFORE the verb of speaking and the final sentence of the quoted speech ends with an EXCLAMATION MARK or a QUESTION MARK, you do NOT replace the exclamation mark or question mark with a comma. 

Instead of replacing the exclamation mark or question mark with a comma, you just leave it unchanged. Here's an example with an exclamation mark:
  • "I challenge you to a race!" the hare said to the tortoise.
Here's an example with a question mark:
  • "When should we do it?" asked the hare.
You can combine Rule #6 and Rule #7 as follows: when you have quoted speech coming before the verb of speaking, you replace the final period of the quoted speech with a comma — but you do not replace an exclamation mark or a question mark.


Rule #8: You can split a quoted sentence into two parts that are wrapped around the verb of speaking. 

When the quoted sentence is split, you put a comma after the first chunk of quoted speech, and you also put a comma after the verb of speaking clause. Here is an example:
  • "I challenge you," the hare said, "to a race!"
The quoted statement ("I challenge you to a race!") has been wrapped around the verb of speaking. To make this style work, you need both commas: a comma after the first chunk of quoted speech, along with a comma after the verb of speaking.


Rule #9: Punctuation marks for quoted speech always go inside the quotation marks, not outside. 

Here are some examples:
  • Period: "I accept your challenge."
  • Comma: "I accept your challenge," replied the tortoise.
  • Question Mark: "When should we do it?" asked the hare.
  • Exclamation Mark: "I challenge you to a race!" the hare said to the tortoise.
All four types of punctuation marks — period, comma, question mark, and exclamation mark — go inside the quotation marks that indicate quoted speech. This is a rule that does not necessarily apply to other uses of quotation marks in English, but it is a rule you can confidently apply to quoted speech.


Rule #10: After you have finished a sentence containing quoted speech, you need to use a new set of quotation marks for quoted speech in the next sentence.

If you have a quoted sentence (or sentences) together with a verb of speaking, that is a complete sentence, so you need another set of quotation marks to indicate quoted speech in the next sentence. Here's an example of a complete sentence using quoted speech:
  • "I challenge you to a race!" the hare said to the tortoise.
If the hare is going to start speaking again in the next sentence, you need another set of quotation marks, although you don't need another verb of speaking since it is clear that the hare is the speaker:
  • "I challenge you to a race!" the hare said to the tortoise. "You are so slow that I will beat you very easily. In fact, I feel sorry for you already because I know you will lose."
Here is another example with quoted speech starting up again after the verb of speaking:
  • "You are very confident," replied the tortoise. "I will just do my best, and we will see what happens."
Because the tortoise is being quoted again in the second sentence, you need a new set of quotation marks, but because the tortoise is the same speaker as before, you don't need another verb of speaking.

Of course, I am sure you know what happened: the hare was not just confident — he was overconfident, and the tortoise turned out to be the winner of the race as you can see in the image below:


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