In quotations such as

"I'm hungry," he said, "I want to eat dinner."

Do you end the word said with a comma or period?

  • Which General Reference should the OP consult? – snailplane Dec 23 '14 at 0:03
  • 1
    There's an example here at OxfordDictionaries which took less than a minute to find via a Google search: "That," he said, "is nonsense." Though OP's example would be better as two sentences, as there is a comma splice. 'GenRef' is often used as a convenient replacement for 'is too basic for and/or has doubtless been asked before on ELU'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '14 at 0:17
  • That example doesn't appear to answer the OP's question. – snailplane Dec 23 '14 at 0:52

A period, as the following word starts a new sentence.

"I'm hungry," he said.

This is one sentence, containing a full quoted sentence inside the quotes (I'm hungry).

"I want to eat dinner."

This is another sentence. It also contains a full quoted sentence inside the quotes. It is understood from the previous sentence that "he" is still talking, and has started another sentence. That means a period needs to go before this sentence.

It only makes sense to use a comma after "said" if the person you're quoting is continuing a sentence. Here's an example of what that could look like:

"I'm hungry," he said, "but I'm not ready to eat yet."

Here, "but I'm not ready to eat yet." is not a complete sentence. It can't stand on its own, so it needs a comma before it to indicate it continues the previous quoted sentence.

If you want to indicate that the speaker said two thoughts quickly, as one sentence, you should rewrite the quotation so that the pause before "he said" is at the end:

"I'm hungry; I want to eat dinner," he said.

| improve this answer | |
  • It's probably better to say that it's a subordinate clause here, rather than saying it cannot stand on its own—many subordinate clauses can, in context. “Come on already, the food’s getting cold.” — “But I'm not ready to eat yet!” – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 23 '14 at 1:25
  • that's why i said here it's not a complete sentence. context is everything. – user428517 Dec 23 '14 at 15:33
  • I realise that—it was the following sentence that is at least potentially misunderstandable. :-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 23 '14 at 15:34
  • the next sentence continues the same thought.. – user428517 Dec 23 '14 at 15:37

The interrupting statement is generally followed by a comma, but if you want to indicate that he spoke two sentences, you would put a period after said.

"I'm hungry; I want to eat dinner," is a subtle variation of "I'm hungry. I want to eat dinner."

Some have suggested "Well then, you should use a semicolon to close the first quote!"

My response is, "Feel free!" The way I see it, the standard comma closes the quote, and the interrupting statement does the work of a semi-colon. The rules of punctuation are not meant to dictate every subtle variation of communication we face in the real world, but the two-fold general rule is quite simple. Pick the one that fits what you are saying.

| improve this answer | |
  • he had to have spoken two sentences because of the position of "he said". If the writer wants to indicate that the speaker said these two sentences quickly, the quotation should be rewritten to avoid the "he said" pause when read: "I'm hungry; I want to eat dinner," he said. (a comma would work OK here too) – user428517 Dec 22 '14 at 23:35
  • Maybe. See edit :) It is quite common to exclude legitimate options. – ScotM Dec 22 '14 at 23:36
  • right, but if the person being quoted said the two independent clauses as one sentence (i.e. with a semicolon), the "he said" should go after the full sentence. otherwise "he said" breaks up the two clauses, and commas no longer make sense. – user428517 Dec 22 '14 at 23:41
  • Can you substantiate that claim for me, please. – ScotM Dec 23 '14 at 0:00
  • 2
    A technical point: punctuation is really a separate domain from grammar, though it can obviously have a role in clarifying the grammatical units in a sentence. – Erik Kowal Dec 23 '14 at 3:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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