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Having read style guides thoroughly, I am still a little confused about when you don't need a comma after "He says".

I thought you always did?

E.g. He said, "No, I'm not ready."

But sometimes I see things like:

He said "Not now."

Is this a mistake? Is the above ever correct or should there always be a comma?

What about if you wrote something like:

I feel tempted to say "Just drive" like they do in movies.

Would that be correct or do you need a comma?

I believe when "he said" comes AFTER the direct speech, you always need a comma unless there is an exclamation or question mark or something.

E.g. "I'll be there in ten minutes," he said.

Unless you have ? or ! there should always be a comma here, right?

Thank you to anyone who can help!

  • Thank you! If I understand right, if you start the direct speech with a capital, you need a comma before it? When would you start it with a capital if it comes after something like he said,? – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 8:00
  • Sorry, just so I am sure to understand and if you don't mind, I have a final question! No problem if you don't have time! Would it be better to say: I feel tempted to say "just drive" like they do in movies OR I feel tempted to say, "Just drive" like they do in movies (with the comma). Is there any difference between the two and could both be correct? – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 8:08
  • I looked at the example of: He said, "Go." is the right way, and thought perhaps we needed the comma, but if I understand correctly, if the direct speech is the object of SAY for example, you don't need the comma. Thanks so much for your help! – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 8:19
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"He said 'Not now.'" I couldn't find an answer I'd feel comfortable definitively quoting, but here and here are what I could find.

"I feel tempted to say 'Just drive' like they do in movies." No, you don't need to put a comma there. My feeling is that in theory you could put one, depending on the context, but you're better off without. I don't think it should be capitalized either.

"E.g. 'I'll be there in ten minutes,' he said." Indeed, if you don't have any other closing punctuation you should put a comma in.

  • Thanks so much RoseofWords! What about if it's: He said, "I'll be there in ten minutes." Then we need a comma right? From what I am gathering, you don't need the comma when the character says something really short like "Just drive" or "Go" or "Not today". Is that right? – MoniqueH Sep 30 '15 at 5:20
  • Also, in some books, I see things that characters want to say, but don't in italics rather than inverted commas. Do you have a feeling about that? E.g. Would this be ok: I feel tempted to say Just drive like they do in movies? Thanks so much! – MoniqueH Sep 30 '15 at 5:23
  • The comma is necessary when the quotation is being said. To use you example: 'He said, "I'll be there in ten minutes.' requires a comma. If, however, you're quoting someone mid-sentence you only need the comma if it's a full sentence. For a short phrase like "just drive" that fits neatly into the sentence, the comma isn't necessary and neither is the capitalization. You always use a comma between a dialogue tag and the actual talking (regardless of length), but when quoting mid-sentence the above rules apply. – RoseofWords Sep 30 '15 at 5:40
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    The distinction there is whether or not you're quoting something. Something that you're saying is from a specific source, such as "just drive" should be in quotation marks. If, however, you're writing something more like "I considered saying go faster but decided the risk that he'd take me seriously was too great" then the italics are fine. – RoseofWords Sep 30 '15 at 5:45
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    Try looking here for more help with the commas. – RoseofWords Sep 30 '15 at 5:45

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