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Use Commas in Direct Speech

Commas have a variety of functions and many people are uncertain of how to use them. The main purpose of a comma is to clarify meaning by grouping together specific parts of the sentence. Each group within the sentence is separated by a comma which marks a slight break.

Earlier this year we looked at how to use commas in a list. Scroll down to read about how to use commas in direct speech.

What is direct speech?

In writing, there are two types of speech: direct speech and reported speech.

  • The term direct speech refers to when the actual words of a speaker are quoted in the text.

    For example:
    • ‘I love you,’ he said.

  • Reported speech (also known as indirect speech) refers to when someone’s words are described rather than quoted.

    For example:
    • He told her he loved her.

How do you use commas in direct speech?

  • If direct speech follows an attribution to who is speaking, introduce the speech with a comma. The comma should come before the first speech mark.

    For example:
    • He said, ‘I love you.’
    • She gazed into his eyes and said, ‘I love you too.’

  • If the speech is followed by an attribution to who is speaking, use a comma after the speech and before the closing speech mark.

    For example:
    • ‘I love you,’ he said
    • ‘I love you too,’ she replied, gazing into his eyes.

  • If the speech is broken up by an attribution to who is speaking, use one comma after the first piece of speech and before the closing speech mark and another comma after the attribution and before the opening speech mark of the second piece of speech.

    For example:
    • ‘I love you,’ he said, ‘and I can’t imagine being without you.’
    • ‘Oh darling,’ she replied, ‘I love you too.’

Are there any exceptions to these rules?

  • If the quoted speech is a question or an exclamation, a question mark or exclamation mark should be used before the closing speech mark instead of a comma.

    For example:
    • ‘Don’t you love me?’ he asked.
    • ‘Are you stupid?’ she replied. ‘Of course I love you!’

Where can I find other articles about punctuation?

We’ll share more advice on punctuation in direct speech and other uses of commas later this year.

Have a great week!

12 Apr 2017
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