What is the proper punctuation and structure to place around an action that implies dialogue, such as the example below? Double quotations does not seem correct, because the dialogue is unspoken.

EXAMPLE: When some time passed and the chaos hadn't abated, Jill glanced at Jane and shrugged, which said both, ‘yes, this is normal’ and, ‘what can one do?’

Many thanks in advance!

1 Answer 1


I don't know if there is a universal or even a close-to-universal convention for this. This type of metalinguistic stuff is notoriously variable.

Different authors choose different conventions for this. Vladimir Nabokov, for example, would probably use double quotes here. James Joyce wouldn't use any.

Many authors use double quotes for thoughts, which are unspoken. This would suggest using them here as well.

  • Do you think all metalinguistic formatting should follow the same convention? For instance, if one were to use italicized text for personal, internal thoughts, would italicized text also be good to follow in the example given? The difference being, of course, that one is a thought inside the head, which isn't contained inside another sentence. The other is a non-verbal thought being shared between two people, and told to a third-party (The reader).
    – RAB
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 2:56
  • @RAB, given that the glance/shrug is acting as a proxy for spoken communication between individuals, I would probably use whatever convention you're using for spoken communication between individuals. My own preference is to use double quotes for thought language, spoken language, and unspoken but communicated language like that in your example. I guess the important thing is just consistency.
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 3:01
  • Ok, thank you. Also, thank you for your prompt replies. I tried italicized formatting prior to posting this question, to remain consistent with the rest of the document, and it appeared abnormal to my eyes. However, for standard unspoken dialogue it appeared natural and easy to understand.
    – RAB
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 3:04
  • @RAB, I tried it out and it did look a little abnormal. I think this is tempered by capitalizing the communicated clauses... But again, I think this boils down to preference. "When some time passed and the chaos hadn't abated, Jill glanced at Jane and shrugged, which said both Yes, this is normal and What can one do?"
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 3:08
  • Ah, yes, I may very well go with that! Thanks! I'm going to leave the question open overnight, to see if anyone offers differing opinions, but I'll probably mark this as the answer tomorrow. Regards.
    – RAB
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 3:14

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