Ariestess (ariestess) wrote in fandom_grammar,

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ANSWER: Dialogue Tags Before Speech

starry_diadem asked, "How do you punctuate and capitalize when the dialogue tag comes before the speech?"
With examples from Once Upon a Time

So what is a dialogue tag anyway? In the simplest terms, this is the whole "he said/she said" bit of your dialogue. There are variations, of course, for those of us who like to spice it up a little. And let's not get into the whole debate of whether that's a good thing or not, since that's a topic for another time.

Dialogue tags, or speech tags, can come in four different places: before the speech, surrounding the speech, in the middle of the speech, and at the end of the speech. In all four variations, the first word of the actual dialogue is always capitalized. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to work with these four options in reverse order.

While we're working with punctuation and capitalization at the beginning of the sentence, let's also look at the proper way to use the speech tags in the middle and end of the sentence.

There is one thing to remember with the dialogue tag coming in the middle or end of the speech. Even though
what is said is a sentence in its own right, it is also part of the sentence that includes the dialogue tag. Said is a transitive verb and needs an object; the object is the words that are spoken, so if the dialogue tag is 'he said', they should never be separated from that by a full stop.
  • Dialogue tag at the end of the speech
    There are three main forms of punctuation that end the dialogue before this tag: comma, question mark, and exclamation mark. Never use a period to separate the end of a piece of dialogue and the beginning of a tag.
    "Honeycrisp apples are the hardiest of all apples," Regina said.

    "Did you know that Honeycrisp apples are the hardiest of all the apple varieties, Miss Swan?" the mayor asked.

    "Didn't anyone ever teach you how to share?" she asked, plucking an apple from the basket.

    "Do not touch my apple tree!" Regina yelled.

    "This isn't over yet!" she yelled.
  • Dialogue tag in the middle of the speech
    This tag is bracketed by commas on either side. In this variation, the first word of the second half of the dialogue [after the tag] will not be capitalized since it's the continuation of the sentence.
    "What difference does it make," Emma asked, "if I accept your invitation now or later?"

    "Thank you, Miss Swan," Regina said, combing her sodden hair out of her eyes, "for saving my life again."

    "When we found the jewelry box," the sheriff said, "we had it dusted for prints."
  • Dialogue tag surrounding the speech
    This third option is a special case because it combines traits of both the starting and ending dialogue tags.
    Regina said, "Thank you, Miss Swan," combing her sodden hair out of her eyes.

    Emma said, "You know, you're a pretty neat kid," and smiled at Henry.
  • Dialogue tag at the beginning of the speech
    One thing we want to remember is that the dialogue is a sentence in itself, so it will always begin with a capital letter, even when your dialogue tag comes first. When the dialogue tag comes before the speech, a comma always separates them.
    Emma smiled at Henry and said, "You know, you're a pretty neat kid."

    Henry replied, "And you're a pretty neat mom."

In the end, there are a couple of things to remember here.
  1. Never capitalize the first word of the dialogue tag unless it begins the sentence or is a proper noun.
  2. Never separate the dialogue from the dialogue tag with a period.

Tags: !answer, author:ariestess, dialogue, dialogue:punctuation, dialogue:tags

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