I'm struggling with when to omit the comma before dialogue (as well as when to use capitals) in fiction writing. My understanding is that you would omit the comma before/after something like "he says" when quoting single words or very short sentences, rather than long clauses.

For example, is it OK to omit the commas in all of the following examples:

  1. I cover the receiver and whisper “sorry” to my friend.

Should sorry have a small letter or capital?

  1. He leans forward and whispers, “I’m ready, baby” into my ear.

I think a comma is necessary here because the dialogue consists of a subject-verb clause. Is that right?

  1. I resist the urge to shout "screw you, asshole" right to his face.

Is it better to have a comma here? Should screw have a capital letter? If so, why?

  1. I turn to him and mouth "bye".

Do I need a comma here or a capital?

  1. I try to shout "stop" again but the words won't come out.

Is this okay or do I need a comma and capitals?

  1. I feel extremely tempted to say “Just drive” and hope for the best.

I feel like there should be a capital here on Just but am not sure why or if that's even correct. I don't need a comma here, right?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  • I think you will find this and other, very similar, questions have been answered at Writers Stack Exchange writers.stackexchange.com Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 10:33
  • Commas come and go. Has anyone checked the comma weather forecast lately?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 3:49

1 Answer 1


I, too struggled with this until it was put very simply to me by an English teacher. If the quoted material is a grammatical part of the sentence, no comma is needed. Here are some examples:

Jim's boss told him to "go file some paperwork."

(No comma is needed in the example above since the quoted material is part of the infinitive.)

Jim's boss said, " Please go file some paperwork."

(There is a comma here because the quoted material is nonessential and not a grammatical part of the sentence.)

I hope this helps!

  • Thank you Jo. Just to be sure I'm getting it, in the example: I feel like to say "just drive." I don't need a comma right?
    – MoniqueH
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 3:22
  • @MoniqueH Correct. In the "just drive" example, no comma would be needed. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:21
  • I can't agree with the advice/rule given by the teacher, or your interpretation of it here. While I find both << Jim's boss told him to 'go file some paperwork.' >> and << Jim's boss told him to go file some paperwork. >> acceptable (in 'AmE'), and thus in line with your teacher's advice, I can't say that << I feel like to say just drive. >> is acceptable, so I can't see how you can claim that << I feel like to say 'Just drive.' >> is licensed. //// Though, if I'm using the very informal register here, I vave no problem myself with << I feel like to say 'Just drive.' >> Zero punctuation... Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 14:25
  • before direct speech (and certainly before other quotes) is considered as acceptable as the comma or colon by many nowadays, and writers often make judicious choices rather than considering only a single style correct. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 14:26

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