Grammar Wednesday: COMMA–dialogue tag

To start off my “Grammar Wednesday,” I figured I would start with commas.  They seem to be one of the biggest issues with the aspiring authors and current writers that I beta and edit for.  Now, there are five or six basic rules for commas.  I’m going to do one a week.

THIS WEEK: dialogue tag

A dialogue tag is when there is something that modifies the speech.  The traditional one that I can think of at the moment, is “she said” or “he said.”

EXAMPLE:

1. “Gonna go ’round the bend, she is,” Cadie said.
2. He whispered into her ear, “Don’t move, or I will shoot.”
3. “I need the medics A-sap,” she called to her partner.

These are all dialogue tags.  To properly punctuate a dialogue tag, you need to have a comma in the dialogue and the tag (if following) needs to be lower-cased as it is a continuation of the sentence.

Practice sentences.

1. “Sit still, now.” he ordered.
2. She sat in pure fear, “I’m not gonna run.”
3. He scoffed, “Good.  Now, shut up.”

Sentence corrections:

1. “Sit still, now,” he ordered. — “ordered” is a dialogue tag, so you need a comma and to lower case the following.
2. She sat in pure fear. “I’m not gonna run.” — “She sat.” does not modify the dialogue, thus it is not a dialogue tag.  To punctuate correctly, there needs to be no comma. They are two different sentences.
3. He scoffed. “Good. Now, shut up.” — “Scoffed” is not actually a dialogue tag! Scoffed is an action verb and thus does not modify what is actually being said.  Therefore, you need two sentences here.

Hope this helps and makes sense! If you have any questions or comments, I’ll try to answer.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Graham Powell (@graham_powell)
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 19:07:03

    But can’t you also write “Good. Now shut up,” he scoffed.

    Reply

    • Adrian
      Jan 30, 2013 @ 19:09:58

      No, because scoff is not modifying the dialogue. Although, everything can be fudged to a certain extent, and of course, everything is finally determined by the author.

      Reply

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