Quotations and Dialogue: We Know What, But How?

Contributor: Jennifer Blanchard. Lesson ID: 13679

Through reading and writing, you have undoubtedly used and noticed quotations and dialogue many times! So, you know what they are, but how should you format them? This lesson tells all!


Grammar, Reading

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Can you match these famous quotes with their movies?

  • How did you do?
  • Did you notice anything similar about those quotes? Anything different?

All the dialogue above was spoken in a movie, but it was first written in a screenplay.

It is important to format quotes and dialogue properly when writing, so that your readers can recognize them and clearly read the message that they are conveying.

First, let's review how quotation marks and dialogue work together.

Dialogue is words spoken by a character or characters.

Quotation marks are the punctuation used to identify those words, and they always come in pairs. You place the quotation marks around the exact dialogue spoken in order to separate those words from the rest of the text.


So, dialogue and quotation marks go hand in hand. The quotation marks are used to show that dialogue, or other quotes, are words written or spoken by others.

Most dialogue sentences are made of two parts:

  • the dialogue, which is the spoken portion of the sentence
  • the dialogue tag, which identifies the speaker

Let's look at an example:

example 1

The sentence which Milly speaks is the dialogue. This is the part that ends with a comma.

The second part is the dialogue tag. The dialogue tag is what identifies Milly as the speaker.

  • Did you know that the dialogue tag and the action can come before the dialogue sometimes?

Let's look at an example:

example 2

The sentence that Milly speaks is still the dialogue. In this example, it ends with a period.

The first part is still the dialogue tag; it is what identifies Milly as the speaker.

Now that we understand the parts and terminology, let's check out some basic formatting rules we need to follow when using dialogue and quotation marks.

  Rule   Example

When the dialogue tag is at the end, surround your dialogue with quotations marks.

End your dialogue with a comma before the last quotation mark.

  "Let's go shopping," she whispered.

When the dialogue tag is at the beginning, surround your dialogue with quotation marks.

End your dialogue with a period and use a comma after the dialogue tag.

  Tyler said, "I have to finish up my schoolwork first."

Treat anything inside quotation marks as separate from the rest of the sentence you've written.

Make sure it has its own correct punctuation.

It should also start with a capital letter even if it is within the larger structure of another sentence.

  At the beginning of their time together, Scott replied, "You can tell me as many times as you'd like."

If you are using an exclamation point or a question mark as the ending punctuation to the sentence inside the quotation marks, put that punctuation before closing the quotation mark.

  "Get out of my room!" Evelyn thundered.

If a character is speaking a lot, you can use multiple paragraphs.

Omit the end quotation mark at the end of the first paragraph and begin the next paragraph with a quotation mark.


"[paragraph 1]

"[paragraph 2]

"[paragraph 3]"

(Try to find an example in a book you are reading.)


When you have a new speaker, create a new paragraph line.


"What do you think you're doing?" asked the teacher.

"Oh, um, I don't know," I replied.


When it is a continued conversation and it is obvious who the speaker is based on the context of the conversation, you can omit some dialogue tags.


"Who is your favorite actor?" my friend, Brett asked.

"I really like movies with Matthew McConaughey," I answered.

"Well, then who is your favorite athlete?"

"That's a harder question for me!" I eventually said.


If there is a quote within a quote, enclose the interior quote with single quotation marks.

  "My mom said, "My favorite quote is from Mother Theresa. She said, 'Peace begins with a smile.' in one of her speeches."


Now, let's look at how you would use quotation marks for quotes that aren't considered dialogue.

For example, if you are writing nonfiction or in an academic manner, you may still want to quote someone, but it wouldn't be considered dialogue.

You would follow the same rules as outlined above; however, you would construct your sentence in a slightly different way so that the quoted words still fit grammatically.

For example:

The governer said that his two oldest friends were "the best friends in the world" and added that he has known them since elementary school.

The governer said his two oldest friends were "the best friends in the world. I've known them since elementary school."

Another instance, in which you would see or use quotation marks that aren't necessarily with dialogue, is something called scare quotes.

Sometimes, you may want to distance yourself from a phrase or statement that you are writing. By putting quotation marks around it, you are implying that you're using a term in an unusual way or a way with which you don't agree.

Scare quotes give off a sense of sarcasm, so use them sparingly.

For example:

The movie is a "one-of-a-kind masterpiece."

For a large number of customers, "computer security" is something they don't necessarily believe in.

Quotation marks are also used in summarizing or paraphrasing; however, those concepts are covered in detail in other lessons.

  • How do you feel about all the information covered in this lesson so far?

Take as much time as you need to truly understand it.

When you're ready, click through to the Got It? section to practice what you've learned.

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