Following my question here I am still unsure if it is a 'hard and fast' rule to italicise thoughts.

My preference is to use normal quotation marks, so that if a person is thinking in a dialogue situation or description, all the text appear normal. I follow British style.


"Are you Ok?" the teacher asked.

"Damn," John thought as he tried to cover his wounded hand.

"Are you OK?" the teacher asked again.

5 Answers 5


It's up to you

I personally like to treat thoughts the same as spoken speech, since they are in a different "voice" from the narrator’s.
For me, it’s not a question of what’s spoken out loud, but a way of identify whose perspective is represented by those words.

If there are no quotation marks the perspective is assumed to be the narrator’s, and that’s the wrong interpretation.

You won’t be wrong, as long as you’re consistent and the writing isn't confusing.

I prefer to avoid italics, since they have yet another pre-existing meaning, but it can be helpful if you find it necessary to distinguish strongly between spoken and thought words.


I would find this very confusing (I'm in the U.S.). I would expect thoughts to be in italics, not in quotes.


"Hard and fast rules" come from the style guide you're following; all else is convention. I've seen both styles in fiction, so to decide which to use you can look at examples of similar type (genre, length, etc) to see what they do.

If you're submitting for publication, then the publisher might have a house style. For example, collections of short stories from multiple authors might nonetheless be edited to be consistent in this regard.


Seems to me that in the majority of books I've read, a character's thought are in normal type, with no quotation marks. Like:

"Hey, where are you going?", the guard demanded.

They've caught me, John thought. "Me, I'm just talking a walk," he bluffed.


I think I've occasionally seen thoughts in italics, but that's pretty rare. They do not go in quotes.


I had this same issue too, as much of my novel is narrated through the mind of the protagonist. Through my own research I found it differs between writers so there are no rules on how to do this. I personally favour italics followed by a tag line but you can also use punctuation marks. I suppose the only rule is pick one and stick to it.

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