Friday, March 1, 2013


Let's face it: punctuation is geeky. Nerdy even. But without it all our sentences would run together we wouldnt understand each other I mean itd be a big mess wouldnt it

You don't know how hard it was for me to write that last bit! My point is, punctuation serves a purpose, just as traffic lights do. Punc keeps the traffic from tangling up, tells us when to take a mental breath, and indicates emotion.

Entire tomes have been written on punctuation. My personal fave is Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss, but there are plenty of others. I'm not going to join the crowd, but from time to time I'm going to offer some simple primers. Yes, you can still leave the complicated stuff to your editor, and no, I won't get into the serial comma. Still, your editor will love you if you get the complicated stuff right, and the serial comma is fun to argue about.

Today I offer a primer on punctuating basic dialogue. Let's start with a simple declarative sentence.

"I'm hungry," said Mary. Note the double quotes, the comma before the end quote, and the lower case s in said. Okay so far? Let's try another.

"I'm hungry," said Mary. "When is supper?"  In this instance, note that we keep the period after Mary and use opening quotes before When. That's because the two bits of dialogue are separate sentences. Also note that the question mark is inside the end quote. So far, so good.

"I'm hungry!" said Mary. Everything is the same as in the first example, except that we've used an exclamation point instead of a comma. ALERT: grammar check programs will often insist that the s of said should be capitalized. They are wrong. They often insist the same following a question mark ("When is supper?" said Mary.),  and they are still wrong.

That wasn't so bad, was it? Next week we'll try splitting a sentence and see how that gets punctuated.

No homework, but you get points if you can explain the reference in the title.