Dialogue Tags

“When they come to pick you up, make sure you have all your bags packed and ready to go,” she said.

She said is a dialogue tag and it’s the most basic and most commonly used type of tag.

She looked at her and asked, “What did you mean by that?”

If a character speaks, a dialogue tag is attached to that dialogue through the use of a comma.

She wrung her hands together in her lap. “What do you mean he didn’t want to go?” A tear fell from her eye.

Use a period if there are no dialogue tags. Don’t use a comma when characters are doing actions while speaking.

“The police arrested him,” she said. “They cuffed him right in front of me.”

Use a period if you are using a dialogue tag, but the dialogue continues.

“If you don’t stop yelling,” the soldier threatened, “I’ll have to make you quiet.”

“What kind of a girl,” he asked, “doesn’t like a diamonds?”

If the first piece of dialogue is NOT a complete sentence, feel free to use commas on both sides of the dialogue tag to connect it. This is also the only time it is acceptable to NOT capitalize the first letter inside the quotation marks.

“I don’t understand!” He lifted the book and scanned them. “What do you mean?”

“Why don’t you want to go with me?” He asked, waiting for her to answer.

“What are you doing here?” she screamed. “I don’t want you here. Go!”

“Don’t look at me!” he cried. “I don’t want you to look at me.”

“I lost it and, well….” He shrugged. “It’s gone.”

“I don’t want to go…” she whispered. “But I have to.”

When a ellipses, question marks, or exclamation marks are used, they simply replace the comma.

“What do you wa―” “That’s not what I mean―”

When using em dashes to show interruption, place it inside the quotation marks.

“We first saw the it here”―he slid his fingers over the map and tapped on a mountain range―“then we saw them to the south, here.”

“They took my dog”―her voice cracked―“I couldn’t stop them.”

But if the interruption happens while the speaker is in the process of speaking, then the em dash goes outside the quotation marks, and next to the action of interruption, with no spaces. Do not capitalize the action of the pause, as there is no period separating them.

Points to Remember:

  • A dialogue tag shows who is speaking and in what manner.
  • Dialogue tags are found in three different places: before, after, or in the middle of the dialogue.
  • Connect a dialogue tag to a dialogue by using a comma/ellipsis/question mark/exclamation mark, and do not capitalize the dialogue tag.
  • If you connect a piece of dialogue to an action that does not involve speaking, you use a period, and do capitalize the subsequent sentence.


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