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Marks the spot. Professor Logan
Lesson #2: Quotation Marks

This one's gonna have a little more information than usual. I only drank two beers while I was writin' the last one, but this one took six. So you better pay attention.

Let's start with the basics, the part most people don't seem to have any problem with. A sentence that's pure dialogue:

"I'm the best there is at what I do."

Simple, straightforward. It's basically just a regular old sentence with some quotation marks on either side. Some people get a little screwed up and put the period outside the quotation marks. That's wrong. Don't do it.

Incorrect:
"I'm the best there is at what I do".

Correct:
"I'm the best there is at what I do."

That was pretty easy, huh?

Now we're going to add dialogue tags.

What the hell are dialogue tags? Good question. Examples of dialogue tags:

he said

Bobby screamed

moaned Rogue

the man shouted

This is where it all goes to hell for some people, but you shouldn't get all freaked out. It's not that hard. You just need to think of the dialogue as a sentence within a sentence.

You wouldn't put a period in the middle of a sentence, would you?

No. Because that wouldn't. Make much sense.

Right.

Dialogue tags can be found before or after the dialogue, but in either case, you need to remember that the comma is your friend, and wants to be used.

First, let's tackle dialogue tags *after* the dialogue:

"I'm the best there is at what I do," said Logan.

The whole sentence doesn't end until *after the dialogue tag*, so you don't use a period at the end of the dialogue. Instead, use a comma. And for chrissake, put it *inside* the quotation marks.

Incorrect:
"I'm the best there is at what I do." said Logan.

Incorrect:
"I'm the best there is at what I do", said Logan.

Correct:
"I'm the best there is at what I do," said Logan.

Now we come to another problem people seem to have in this situation: capitalization.

Some people get a little confused about what to do with the first word of the dialogue tag, but if you remember to think of the dialogue as a sentence within a sentence, you'll be okay. The sentence doesn't truly end until the dialogue tag is over, so you don't capitalize the first word of the dialogue tag if it isn't a proper noun**.

"I'm the best there is at what I do," Logan said.

In this sentence, the first word of the dialogue tag (Logan) is a proper noun that should always be capitalized.

"I'm the best there is at what I do," he said.

In this sentence, the first word of the dialogue tag (he) is a pronoun that is capitalized only when it begins a sentence. And it's not beginning a new sentence here, so it doesn't get capitalized.

See the difference?

Incorrect:
"I'm the best there is at what I do," He said.

Correct:
"I'm the best there is at what I do," he said.

Correct:
"I'm the best there is at what I do," Logan said.

And then we have the mother of all incorrects, the double whammy of incorrect punctuation *and* capitalization:

"I'm the best there is at what I do." He said.

Grrrrrr. That kind of thing makes me want to gouge my eyes out with my claws, which makes me think I'm taking this professor crap a little too seriously. I wouldn't bother to gouge out my eyes anyway, since they'd just grow back. But it's just that bad. Don't do it. Ever.

Let's leave that horror behind, and move on to other punctuation options. Sometimes your dialogue is a question or an exclamation.

Remember what I said about the dialogue being a sentence within a sentence? That still applies. Don't think of question marks and exclamation points as sentence-ending punctuation in these cases. Think of them as cues for the reader, so they know what the speaker is saying and how they are saying it.

"Logan, will you have sex with me?" asked Rogue.

"Absolutely!" said Logan.

See? In these two examples, the dialogue punctuation tells the reader that Rogue's asking me a question, and that I'm answering it with a lot of enthusiasm (I'm no dummy). But it doesn't end the sentence, so hold on to those caps, unless you've got a proper noun directly after it.

Incorrect:
"Who drank my last beer?" Asked Logan.

Correct:
"Who drank my last beer?" asked Logan.

Incorrect:
"I did!" Shouted Rogue.

Correct:
"I did!" shouted Rogue.

Again, the dialogue punctuation still goes *inside* the quotation marks. And Rogue's the only person who's allowed to drink my beer, so don't go getting any bright ideas.

Now that we got that squared away, we'll move on to dialogue tags that come *before* the dialogue. Most of what I just told you still applies. The comma is still your best friend.

Logan said, "I'm the best there is at what I do."

Rogue moaned, "You sure are."

The only difference here is that you *do* capitalize that first word of the quoted dialogue. Yeah, I know it's funky to capitalize something in the middle of the sentence, and I just told you not to do it with the pronouns in the tags, but you gotta in this instance. It helps the readers differentiate between the narrative and the dialogue.

I just scared myself with that last sentence, by the way.

Anyway, here are your examples:

Incorrect:
Logan said. "Yeah, I'm the best there is a what I do."

Incorrect:
Logan said, "yeah, I'm the best there is at what I do."

Correct:
Logan said, "Yeah, I'm the best there is at what I do."

Remember though, that just because something comes before your dialogue, it isn't always a true dialogue tag--sometimes it's an action. In that case, they are two separate sentences and you need to give 'em their own punctuation.

Logan shrugged. "I'm the best there is at what I do, darlin'."

Rogue nodded enthusiastically. "You sure are!"

So there you have it.

It isn't that hard once you get the hang of it, because there are really only three rules to remember:

1. Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
2. Dialogue tags are not capitalized unless they are proper nouns.
3. Commas, not periods.

Three rules. That's it. Yeah, there's some more complicated stuff, like when the quote is part of a question, or it's broken into two parts and crap like that, but I won't go into that today. If you can remember those three basic rules, they'll get you through most situations.

I'm supposed to include these links. These are some websites you can use for reference if you get stuck:

DangerMom's Handy-Dandy Grammar Guide

Elements of Craft

And if all else fails, walk over to your bookshelf, pick up a book, page through it until you find some dialogue, and look at how it's done. It's that easy.

Good luck.

Professor Logan
"I'm the best there is at what I do, and what I do is correct grammar."

**Pronouns are *not* proper nouns. Examples of proper nouns can be found here:

EnglishClub.com


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