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I am writing my first novel and this the very first confusion I would like to clarify. As I am not a native English speaker, I find it very hard to understand the punctuation scheme in direct speeches.

Which one of the following is correct? Please explain why the other one is wrong.

“I did what I needed to do.” He lowered his head to look at my face.

“You should've waited for me,” she replied.

or

“I did what I needed to do,” he lowered his head to look at my face.

“You should've waited for me,” she replied.

Also, how well does this punctuation rules apply for action tags like - he shrugged, he smile, he scoffed and similar tags.

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The difference is that the first sentence doesn't have a tag. It's a line of dialogue followed by a complete sentence.

The second sentence is dialogue followed by a dialogue tag.

Your first set of examples is punctuated correctly — when you use a tag, the dialogue ends in a comma, and the tag starts with a lowercase letter. This also applies to action tags.

  • Thank you Lauren :) So if my character says “I did what I needed to do.” while he is lowering his head, it still is a correct way right? – Lara Mar 20 '15 at 12:27
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    @Lara Yes, it's fine. If you want to make it a tag, you'd write it as "I did what I needed to do," he said, lowering his head. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 20 '15 at 13:10
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Adding to @LaurenIpsum: Keep in mind that different countries punctuate differently. From this source:

American style uses double quotes (“) for initial quotations, then single quotes (‘) for quotations within the initial quotation.

“Economic systems,” according to Professor White, “are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, ‘with us whether we want them or not.’”

British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.

‘Economic systems’, according to Professor White, ‘are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, “with us whether we want them or not”’.

The above examples also show that the American style places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not in the original material. British style (more sensibly) places unquoted periods and commas outside the quotation marks. For all other punctuation, the British and American styles are in agreement: unless the punctuation is part of the quoted material, it goes outside the quotation marks.

However, this site disagrees with the above site on some details. But, it agrees with me on the illogic of both systems.

The question of whether to place other punctuation marks inside or outside quotation marks is a controversial one, [with] both the British and American practices being to some extent at variance with logic. The rule would seem obvious: other punctuation marks appear inside the quotation marks when they are part of the quotation itself, and outside when they are not. It is one of life’s enduring mysteries, however, why neither British nor American conventions follows this simple principle.

My advice is to be logical and consistent. If an editor insists on an illogical reformat ("because that's the rule"), then threaten to drop quote marks altogether, as some authors have done. :-)

  • Then there's this site: eng-lang.co.uk/ogs.htm As I said, be logical and consistent. – dmm Mar 20 '15 at 23:00
  • Thanks :) I will take your advice... And as I'm self publishing, I think I have more freedom :D – Lara Mar 20 '15 at 23:49

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