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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!

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  • 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 8:19

2 Answers 2

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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.

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  • 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, 2015 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, 2015 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. Sep 30, 2015 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. Sep 30, 2015 at 5:45
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    Try looking here for more help with the commas. Sep 30, 2015 at 5:45
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This answer is based on the APA style.

These two APA Style blog posts claim that the following is correct:

  1. He said, "No, I'm not ready."
  2. I feel tempted to say "just drive" like they do in movies.

Examples from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2015/07/punctuation-junction-punctuation-before-quotation-marks.html:

  1. To identify the speaker of a quotation before the quotation appears, put a comma after the speaking-related verb (said, replied, stated, wrote, etc.).

    • Correct: Koval, vanDellen, Fitzsimons, and Ranby (2015) stated, “Although many factors likely predict who is asked to do what (e.g., collegiality; cooking skills), the current research suggests that one robust predictor of being relied on is being high in self-control” (p. 763).

    • Incorrect: Koval, vanDellen, Fitzsimons, and Ranby (2015) stated “Although many factors likely predict who is asked to do what (e.g., collegiality; cooking skills), the current research suggests that one robust predictor of being relied on is being high in self-control” (p. 763).

  2. To present a quotation after a complete sentence (e.g., those ending in thus or as follows), put a colon after the introductory sentence and before the quotation marks. Start the quotation that follows with a capital letter if the quotation itself is a full sentence; start the quotation with a lowercase letter if it is a sentence fragment.

    • Correct: Although some people believe tasks are easier for individuals with high self-control, the research has indicated as follows: “Participants actually working on the task found it equally difficult and draining, regardless of their own self-control” (Koval et al., 2015, p. 763).

    • Incorrect: Although some people believe tasks are easier for individuals with high self-control, the research has indicated as follows, “Participants actually working on the task found it equally difficult and draining, regardless of their own self-control” (Koval et al., 2015, p. 763).

  3. For other scenarios, punctuate according to the grammar of the sentence, as though the quotation marks were not there. This means sometimes no punctuation is required before quotation marks.

    • Correct: Koval et al. (2015) found that “individuals with high self-control may feel tired, annoyed, and perhaps even resentful of the fact that others ask and expect more of them” (p. 763).
  • Incorrect: Koval et al. (2015) found that, “individuals with high self-control may feel tired, annoyed, and perhaps even resentful of the fact that others ask and expect more of them” (p. 763).

And from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2011/08/punctuating-around-quotation-marks.html:

Punctuation mark Placement Example Notes
Period Inside Participants who kept dream diaries described themselves as “introspective” and “thoughtful.”
Comma Inside Many dream images were characterized as “raw,” “powerful,” and “evocative.”
Parentheses Outside Barris (2010) argued that “dreams express and work with the logic of gaining a sense of and a relation to ourselves, our lives, or our sense of reality as a whole” (p. 4). See more examples of how to cite direct quotations here.
Semi-colon Outside At the beginning of the study, participants described their dream recall rate as “low to moderate”; at the end, they described it as “moderate to high.”
Colon Outside Participants stated they were “excited to begin”: We controlled for participants' expectations in our study.
Question mark or exclamation point (part of quoted material) Inside The Dream Questionnaire items included “How often do you remember your dreams?” and “What do you most often dream about?” We found intriguing results. When a quotation ending in a question mark or exclamation point ends a sentence, no extra period is needed.
Question mark or exclamation point (not part of quoted material) Outside How will this study impact participants who stated at the outset, “I never remember my dreams”? We hypothesized their dream recall would increase.
Quotation within a quotation + period or comma Inside Some participants were skeptical about the process: “I don’t put any stock in these ‘dream diaries.’” When multiple quotation marks are used for quotations within quotations, keep the quotation marks together (put periods and commas inside both; put semi-colons, colons, etc., outside both).

They also note:

As a final note, we’d like to say that we realize APA Style is used in many places across the world that may not usually follow American style punctuation rules and that not all fields or publishers in the United States and Canada use American style punctuation

Some text editors can help auto-correct, e.g. MS Outlook (web version):

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