Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Light in the Darkness VIII

I know that I missed a grammar blog last week. I am sorry, but we had a guest. (You should definitely check out that blog entry.)

Today's entry is about dialogue tags. No, it is not a full blog about quotation marks, but this will cover most of the uses of them. In US usage – and that is becoming the standard usage – double quotation marks are used to denote speech.

“I want my synthetic blood.”

Oh, you were expecting True Blood?
Sorry, even this crappy jpg is better than that show.

The quotation marks show that this is dialogue, someone speaking, not part of the narrative proper. The period is inside the quotation marks, and that ends the sentence.

“We are fresh out of synth-blood, vamp,” said the werewolf.

This is another snippet of dialogue, and this time the comma is inside the quotation marks. It shows that the sentence was a declarative one, one that would have taken a period were it not for the speech tag outside it.

Speech tags, or dialogue tags, include words such as “said”, “asked”, “screamed”, “cried”, “whispered”, and so on. When using one after a line of dialogue, usually the appropriate punctuation is a comma, followed by the closing quotation mark, and then the full tag, followed by a period.

“You should get some quickly then, or I will end up drinking blood fresh,” said the vampire.

The speech tag is not capitalized. I have seen this before, but it is not correct. All three of the following are incorrect.


“I will have your hide for that threat,” He said.

“I will have your hide for that threat.” he said.

“I will have your hide for that threat.” He said.


“I will have your hide for that threat,” he said.

Somebody's gonna get a hurt real bad.

The incorrect one will not trigger your spell-check or the infamous grammar-check, either. “He said” is a sentence, so it will not get flagged by a program. But it is not a correct dialogue tag, so it would need to be fixed.

This need to keep the speech tag in lower case (aside from proper names, of course) remains constant even if something aside from a comma is used.

“That's it. You're a dead wolf!” screamed the vampire.

Notice that the exclamation point would normally be considered the end of the sentence, and you could expect that the words thereafter would start a fresh sentence. But that is not the case. Despite how strong they look, exclamation points are, in this regard, weaker than periods. A period precludes the use of a dialogue tag. None of the other three primary punctuation marks for dialogue do. (Those would be the comma, the exclamation point, and the question mark.)

“You're not planning to kill me over synth-blood, are you?” asked the werewolf.

Do you see how the “asked” does not start with a capital letter? Again, only the period cuts off dialogue to the point that it precludes a speech tag.

This all, of course, only applies to the sentence before the speech tag. Other sentences do not require any special treatment, punctuation-wise.

“It was the last time I ever saw that werewolf. He and I had been close, almost like brothers! But that one argument over synth-blood cost us our friendship,” said the vampire. “Also, he was delicious.”

Just workin' the wolf through.

Until next week, keep those grammar candles burning!

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