I am wondering what the convention is for punctuating dialogue with oneself.

In particular, if a character speaks to himself, do the words need to be put in open and closed quotes? Note that the words in this case are merely the thoughts of the character.


  • How could I be so complacent, Alex said to himself.
  • I will not give in, Alex told himself.
  • You say "thoughts", but both examples as well as your specific question are about something the character says. At least to my mind, the two are different (though you could use the same style for both). Which are you referring to? (Also, I don't really see what this has to do with punctuation, but that could be just me...)
    – user
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 7:39
  • Since dialog is formatted differently in different areas of the world, can you clarify your location? I assume Australia? Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 12:29
  • In line with this I'd like to add that I'm British.
    – CLockeWork
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 12:50

4 Answers 4


In most instances thought is presented as italicised text.

If they’re physically talking I’d present it as normal text.

Thought - Damn it, what’s the matter with me? She thought as she closed the door.
Speech - ‘Damn it, what’s the matter with me?’ She cursed as she closed the door.

  • Is that what you think, or did you actually look at some books? According to a quick survey of the English language books on my shelf your answer is wrong. Only very rarely are thoughts italicized. Usually they are presented as normal text, without quotes. Italics are used for names of vessels, terms and dialogue in a foreign tongue, telekinesis or radio transmissions, voices from far away.
    – user5645
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 9:10
  • @what, this would be what I know, from the many, many English language books I've read over the years. Damn near every book, short, novella... every story I've ever read that includes thought shows it as italics. This is so much the case that instances where it isn't immediately stand out.
    – CLockeWork
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 9:50

"Before I start my reply, I want to point that, afaik, in Portuguese speaking countries, the most common way to delimit dialogues is to use only dashes. The quotation marks are reserved for thoughts and, sometimes, foreign words. I'm answering based on that criteria."

I handle that in my books as a normal dialogues.

How could I be so complacent? - Alex said to himself.

In the phrase below, maybe it makes more sense to consider it as a thought, but I don't know to context.

"I will not give in." – Alex thought while climbing the mountain. – "I must continue on."

Normally I rule that, if a character expects an answer from himself, he is dialogging with himself, otherwise, he's just toughing about something... But that's only me. You should choose what works better for you.

I guess the answer on quotes, depends on how you think you should deal with the dialogue. If it's a dialogue, don't quote. If it's a thought, quote.

  • 1
    "If it's a dialogue, don't quote. If it's a thought, quote." I would have thought exactly the opposite. Why would you want speech to not be treated as speech? Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 11:48
  • 1
    That's one point where culture counts, I guess... Afaik, in Portugal and Brazil the dialogues are not quoted, just delimited with dashes. Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 12:22
  • 2
    Ah, I see. OP is in Australia, however. If you want to specify this is a regional thing, I'd be happy to remove my downvote. I learned a new thing today! Purely for my own curiosity, do you have an example of this or a reference? Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 12:28
  • Yes, you're right. I should have pointed that. Commented fixed. Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 12:48
  • Thanks. Markup was rendering one of your dashes as a bullet; are the hyphens here correctly formatted now? Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 19:07

In all written English, dialogue by a character should be quoted as well as any other vocalized words. Ei. the character is talking to himself. Inner dialogue and thoughts should be italicized. The only real difference between dialects should be small punctuation changes, like whether to use single quotes or double.


The Chicago Manual of Style says that "unspoken discourse" can be either in quotations marks or not according to the author's preference.

(Referencing some of the other respondents' contributions, Chicago does mention that in some countries em dashes are used for dialogue. I can only come from an American English perspective on this.)

A good way to bypass this problem altogether is to write thoughts less like dialogue and, well, more like thoughts or urges, fleeting ideas floating through the synapses of the character's brain. Instead of "Joe thought, "I want an apple" write "Joe had a sudden hankering for an apple." Or, referencing your examples:

How could I be so complacent, Alex said to himself.

Alex wondered how he could have been so complacent.

I will not give in, Alex told himself.

Alex told himself not to give in.

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