Direct Speech Punctuation

When we report another person’s words, we can use direct speech or reported speech.

For direct speech, we use the exact words and we put quotation marks (” “) or inverted commas (‘ ‘) around them:

“I’m so tired,” said Sarah.

‘His singing was terrible,’ concluded Michelle.

According to “Improve Your Punctuation and Grammar” by Marion Field, the following rules are to be followed when setting out direct speech:

  • When a person starts to speak, always begin a new paragraph.
  • The paragraph begins at the beginning of the sentence in which the speech occurs.
  • The first word of a person’s speech always starts with a capital letter.
  • Alway put a punctuation mark before closing the inverted commas (or quotation marks). 
  • A comma is usually used to separate the speech from words before or after it.
  • Use a full stop if no words follow the speech.
  • The punctuation mark always goes inside the inverted commas (or quotation marks). 

Let’s look at a few examples:

“I will never leave,” she said.

She replied, “It is necessary.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

“It won’t rain, will it?” I asked.

Pay attention to the punctuation marks in the sentences above. Remember that there must always be a punctuation mark before the inverted commas (‘ ‘) or punctuation marks (” “) are closed.

See how the punctuation changes if the sentence is broken in the middle:

“I see,” Mary said,“that something bad is going on.

“I see that something bad is going on,” said Mary. “What shall we do?” (here two sentences have been interrupted by “said Mary”.

See how the punctuation reflects addressing someone:

‘Kimmy, have a look,” said Stephanie.

“Have a look, Kimmy,” said Stephanie.

Basically, nothing changes. You just need to remember to use the comma before or after the name.

Look at how the direct speech punctuation rules work when there is a dialogue:

‘My teacher would like to see you on Monday,’ announced Tom.

‘Why?’ asked Mrs.Tenner. ‘You’ve been working so hard lately.’

‘I was talking in class. I’m sorry!’

‘What?’

‘Sorry! It wasn’t my fault! I was trying to help Michael understand the rule.’

‘It’s not your job, you know.’

Mrs.Tenner sat at the table and her son sat next to her.

Sometimes a quotation may be incorporated within the direct speech:

Mrs.Tenner asked, “Who said, “I will never talk in class anymore“?

Inverted commas or quotation marks are also needed for writing some titles:

‘I’m going to watch the film Autumn in New York,’ announced Mike.

“We are reading ‘War and Peace’, ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘Anna Karenina’,” Cathy told her father.