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How to correctly punctuate this?

He said "she is pretty".

Is a comma a must after 'said'? Do we need to make 's' in 'she' capitalized?

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closed as general reference by Andrew Leach, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, FumbleFingers, Hellion, aedia λ Jan 28 '13 at 19:20

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This is direct speech (using quotation marks), not reported speech as in He said she is pretty, so the answer is Yes and Yes. –  Andrew Leach Jan 28 '13 at 15:58
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For more on various punctuation conventions in direct speech you may want to look here. –  user32480 Jan 28 '13 at 16:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There are two common styles, referred to as "American" and "British" though each is found in each place.

In both, ?, :, and ! is always inside if it belongs to the quoted part, outside if it belongs to the use itself:

He said, “She is pretty?” (He inflected it as a question).

He said, “She is pretty”? (He may have said it, I the writer am asking).

For commas and periods, American style always puts the period inside the quotes:

He said, “She is pretty.”

British style puts it in the quotes if it was part of the quote:

He said, “She is pretty.” (And he finished his sentence with that)

He said, “She is pretty”. (And may have gone on to say more in that sentence).

Some who favour American style favour British style in technical contexts where it may be more important to make sure the reader knows if the period is part of the quoted text (e.g. it could make a big difference if quoting computer code).

Less common styles include play format:

He said: She is pretty.

Play format with quotes:

He said: “She is pretty.” (period may follow British or American rules.

And James Joyce style:

— She is pretty.

Which as much as I quite like it, you only gets to use if you'r James Joyce, and few editors will put up with from anyone else.

You would normally capitalise within the quotes. If you want to signify that something had gone before within the same sentence, then you might use ellipses:

He said, “…she is pretty”.

But not if running a quote into a sentence as in:

He described her as “pretty” and I had to agree.

Left and right quotes like “ and ” should be favoured where possible, but informal contexts can tolerate straight quote like ". I would normally use " here without worry, but for this particular post being on the topic of quotation marks.

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I like the bit about James Joyce style... followed by commentary in the style of James Joyce. Nicely done; I hope no well-meaning busybody edits you. –  MT_Head Jan 28 '13 at 17:29
    
@MT_Head I use it on first draft (though with simple hyphens rather than proper em-dashes) for the simple reason that it's an easy style to write quickly and I can think about the dialogue rather than typing "he said" and "she said". I edit it out myself because it's an unusual style, and hence best avoided. Rather than think them busybodies, I like editors for making me look good :) –  Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 17:32
    
I agree that it's fast and easy to write, AND that it should generally be avoided. I also agree that copy-editing is a Good Thing in general! I was referring to the sentence immediately following; there are a number of humorless pedants on this site who might edit the life out of that and kill the joke. –  MT_Head Jan 28 '13 at 17:36
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@MT_Head it started as two simple typos, got mis-corrected into two different simple typos, and got left because it made me smile too. –  Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 17:39
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@MT_Head my Robbie Burns pastiche yesterday was perhaps going a bit too far, but some things are hard to resist. –  Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 17:41

Jon Hanna has explained the difference between British and American practice. The late R L Trask (a distinguished academic linguist, born in New York State, but who worked in the UK) sets out the arguments here, coming down in favour of the British way, or the logical way, as he calls it. He is also quite definitely of the view that no comma is required immediately before opening quotation marks. He makes a good case, but his advice conflicts with the practice of many publishers.

You need to start the quoted speech with a capital letter because it's the start of a sentence.

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Standard British punctuation for speech is:

He said, "She is pretty."

Note the full stop inside the inverted commas - he spoke a sentence which ended with pretty, and then he stopped speaking.

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Note also that "She" is capitalized. It's a complete sentence (whence also the period), and should start with a capital in print. The period could go outside instead, though. Conventions vary world wide. –  John Lawler Jan 28 '13 at 16:28

I'd use a colon

He said: "she is pretty".

unless you mean something like

...and then he said that she is pretty.

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