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Using Commas With Quotation Marks

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

If you're working with dialogue, you're going to need to know a thing or two about comma placement. Although the process can seem complicated, the rules are actually quite simple. Here are some tips you can use when combining quotes and commas.

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    Inside or Outside Quotation Marks?

    When it comes to using question marks or exclamation points with quotation marks, you have to decide whether the punctuation is an important part of the quote. Not so with commas and periods. According to the American English method of punctuation, all commas and periods go inside of the quotation marks. For example: “I can’t believe you’re actually making me do this", grumbled Dan. (incorrect) “I can’t believe you’re actually making me do this," grumbled Dan. (correct)
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    Dialogue Tag After a Quote

    When a dialogue tag comes after a quote, the quote should end in a comma. For example, take a look at the following sentence: “I can’t believe you’re actually making me do this," grumbled Dan. (correct) The dialogue tag (grumbled Dan) comes after the quotation, so a comma is required after the word “this."
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    Dialogue Tag Before a Quote

    When a dialogue tag comes before a quote, the dialogue tag should end in a comma. For example: Dan grumbled, “I can’t believe you’re actually making me do this."
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    Dialogue Tag in the Middle of a Quote

    When a dialogue tag comes in the middle of a quote, it is surrounded by commas. One comma should end the first part of the quotation, and the other comma should directly follow the dialogue tag. For example: “I can’t believe," grumbled Dan, “you’re actually making me do this." Keep in mind that this is only the case when the words before and after the dialogue tag are actually part of the same sentence. If they were two separate sentences, the dialogue tag would be followed by a period rather than a comma. For example: “I can’t believe it," grumbled Dan. “I just can’t believe you’re actually making me do this."
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    Indirect Quotations

    Indirect quotations do not require any commas. For example: Modern CEOs remind one of Shakespeare’s colossus in that they “bestride the narrow world" without a thought to how their actions affect the little guy. Bethany called Sarah “twinkle toes" because of her ineptitude in ballet class. Of course, even indirect quotations use commas if they are required for the flow of the sentence in general. For example: Although I told her “absolutely not," she continued to pester me. I bought a birthday card, a balloon that read “21 years is a long time," and several birthday candles.

When to Use Commas: A List of Comma Rules

Confused by commas? These rules for comma usage will teach you how and when to use commas. Includes information about items in a series, introductory phrases, and comma splices.
  1. Comma Splices and Other Errors: When NOT to Use Commas:
  2. Using Commas With Quotation Marks