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Online grammar checkers verify this sentence as correct:

I told him “I just put commas where my brain pauses.” He said, “You need to get your brain examined.”

The online software seems to be fine with or without a comma in the first line, but it insists that I use a comma in the second line after 'He said'.

My question is: Why do I not need a comma after the phrase 'I told him' in the first line? Isn't that an introductory phrase too?

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    In the first sentence, a comma is optional between '... him' and '"I just put ..."'. (I would have put a comma there because I would assume the writer was quoting himself, but this may not be so: the writer could be merely paraphrasing himself. I would not put a comma in the first sentence if it had been written "I told him that "I just put....") In the second sentence, the comma is standard between 'He said,' and '"You need..."' because the writer was quoting the person responding to the first sentence. – tautophile Jun 11 '18 at 6:34
  • @tautophile: In present-day English, the quotation marks indicate a direct quote, without paraphrase. (Sometimes this is a bit of a conceit -- sometimes the quote has been reconstructed or cleaned up or whatnot -- but if you're using quotation marks then you're marking it as quotation rather than paraphrase, and the other punctuation must be chosen accordingly.) – ruakh Jun 11 '18 at 15:30
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The simple answer is that online grammar checkers do not actually understand English. Machine intelligence has come a very long way in the past thirty years and more, but it still has a long way yet to go.

The software that you're consulting recognizes a few simple patterns, but it can't really tell when a comma is and is not appropriate. If you give it a case where "he said" should not be followed by a comma, I bet it will wrongly flag it:

He said "everything he was required to", according to his lawyer.

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