English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Best shown by example:

(From Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)

  1. "But I still felt bad," she went on. "So I dragged myself all the way to your house later--like an idiot.

  2. "Don't worry," I said, "she's not cuckoo. Different people have different tastes."

Now you see how in (1), the line is interrupted by "she went on", which is delineated by a period and the dialogue continues with a capitalization. And in (2), "I said" is concluded with a comma, and the dialogue continues with no capitalization. I can't understand the difference. Is there a rule regarding this, or is it a stylistic choice depending how you want the sentence to sound in the reader's head?

It isn't as simple as 'in the first example, "But I still felt bad" is a complete sentence, whereas in the second example "Don't worry" is only the beginning of a longer sentence.'

The reason I say it is not that simple is that both examples could have been either one sentence or two. "Don't worry" could easily be its own sentence, just as "But I still felt bad" could be the comma'd opening clause of a longer sentence.

So does that make it a stylistic choice?

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

As I understand things, you place a comma after the interruption if the first quotation was not a complete sentence, and a period if it was. The rule really is as simple as you inferred. The stylistic element comes in where you have to decide how you would punctuate a quotation if it wasn't to be broken.

By example:

"My most worthy adversary, we meet again," becomes, " 'My most worthy adversary,' the villain scoffed, [comma] 'we meet again.' "


"My most worthy adversary. We meet again," becomes, " 'My most worthy adversary,' the villain scoffed. [period] 'We meet again.' "

share|improve this answer
Well if it really is that simple-- thanks. – Aerovistae Mar 20 '12 at 2:17

You would place a comma after the interruption if the first quotation was not a complete sentence, but dialogue doesn't have to use complete sentences. Using the period in sentence 1 amounts to deciding not to use complete sentences within the dialogue.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.