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How should a quote like this be punctuated?

"Amanda, I meant to tell you earlier, but...," his voice shook with sorrow, "I couldn't find the words."

Would this be correct if I deleted the comma after the ellipsis? Or would it be better to eliminate the ellipsis? Or to eliminate the comma after the ellipsis and then add an ellipsis in the second part:

"Amanda, I meant to tell you earlier, but..." his voice shook with sorrow, "...I couldn't find the words."

  • Though it breaks the rules, I've kind of grown fond of: ... earlier, but...", his voice .... Far less confusing. – Hot Licks Apr 1 '15 at 17:47
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In my creative writing class, we were taught to treat dialog as full sentences. I'm not sure how true that exactly is since writers often break the rules, but without the comma, your bit of dialog becomes a run on sentence.

So, to answer your question, leave the comma.

However (and this is just opinion really) reading your quote, I wouldn't necessarily thing the ellipse indicated an interruption. Often, it indicates more of a "trailing-off". Em-dashes (—) are better for abrupt stops.

I'd suggest rewording it to give the reader a better sense of what's happening.

"Amanda, I meant to tell you earlier, but—," he stopped. Voice shaking with sorrow he finished, "I couldn't find the words."

I'd also add why he stopped/trailed off and why his voice is shaking with sorrow between the two sentences. This both lengthens the pause (which is a profound moment, I'm assuming, at least for the speaker), and gives the reader a better indication of just how much the man is feeling.

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An ellipsis at the end of a quotation implies the person stopped speaking mid-sentence. It goes in place of a period, but implies the rest of the sentence is missing. I would expect the next thing that character says to be an entirely new sentence.

The comma divides parts of a sentence and implies there is more sentence to come. So dividing the dialog and description in your example with commas is clear and readable writing. Even though you are writing dialogue, the dialogue is just part of an overall sentence written and punctuated by the writer.

The ellipsis followed by comma is a mixed message: the ellipsis says the sentence is over, and the comma says more to come. Choose one or the other as appropriate.

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