Example sentence:

"Sorry to bother." Kenji waved his hand as though to say, I'm up here. "But I think I've really seen you before."

Should the bold section be double quotes or italics? And why?

  • Good question, not sure myself but I wouldn't use either... quotes are for dialog which that is not, and italics TYPICALLY denote inner dialog / thought, which that is not it either. I don't think you need to change the font for that but I do see why you are asking.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 15:17
  • It seems there should be a line break before the next sentence (Kenji), and in that separate sentence, quotes would work fine. Whereever you're going after that makes no sense though. It's like you've got the person speaking, then Kenji who is nearby, then someone else in the distance...but if that's what's happening you need more line breaks. IMO two characters can't share interspersed quoted communication--be it spoken or gesticulated--in the same block.
    – elrobis
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


Grammar Girl has a quick article on it, and the bottom line is that there’s no hard and fast rule. Everyone will have a different opinion on it. What matters more is that you be consistent and agree with your editor. Note that the article is about internal dialogue, but you can directly infer that if there are no strict rules for internal dialogue, there are even fewer for things that could have been said but weren’t actually said.

The hardest part about deciding how to format internal dialogue is that there is no definitive answer. It’s a style choice, and you will find different credible websites that make different recommendations, sometimes in very strong tones.

I’ll also note that I did check the Chicago Manual of Style to see if it had an entry on this topic since it is the style guide used by many book editors. I couldn’t find an entry.

The best advice is to choose your style (with input from your editor if you have one), and then use that style consistently.

Personally I would strongly advise against using quotes, since those should denote something actually said. For what it’s worth, George R. R. Martin uses italics repeatedly in this excerpt from A Dance With Dragons, Jon:XIII (emphasis mine, spoiler warning):

They had no idea of Wun Wun’s strength. A horn, I need a horn. He saw the glint of steel, turned toward it. “No blades!” he screamed. “Wick, put that knife…”

… away, he meant to say. When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. “Why?”

“For the Watch.” Wick slashed at him again. This time Jon caught his wrist and bent his arm back until he dropped the dagger. The gangling steward backed away, his hands upraised as if to say, Not me, it was not me. Men were screaming. Jon reached for Longclaw, but his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. Somehow he could not seem to get the sword free of its scabbard.

Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks. “For the Watch.” He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger remained where he had buried it.

Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…

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