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Note: The question at He nodded his head yes; she shook her head no does not answer this queestion because that question deals with a gesture that can be expressed fine without direct speech but in this question, I do want to use direct speech.


Do we need to always prefix quoted sentences in direct speech preceded by "He said,", "She said,", etc.?

For example, a simple direct speech can be written like this:

He declined the invitation to come to the party and said, "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight."

Can the above sentence be written like this:

He declined the invitation to come to the party, "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight."

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  • Yes. It would be better without the comma. You don’t need “he said” if it's clear who’s speaking.
    – Xanne
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 8:06
  • @Xanne You mention "Yes," and then say, "It would be better without the comma," so I am not quite sure which part of my question you agree with. I did not mention anything about omitting comma in my question. But now that you mention your point about comma, do I really have to remove the comma from my sentence? Why? Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 8:09
  • No, your suggested sentence is ungrammatical. Direct reported speech normally requires a reporting verb to which it functions as complement.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 8:59
  • Does this answer your question? He nodded his head yes; she shook her head no Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 10:13
  • Modern style allows far looser, and implied (where clarity as to who is speaking isn't compromised), quote tags, especially in less formal prose. << He declined the invitation to come to the party: "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight." >> / << He declined the invitation to come to the party. "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight." >> However, use of a comma here would be irregular (and the colon really causes a conflict of registers). Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 10:17

2 Answers 2

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He declined the invitation to come to the party, "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight."

This is not strictly correct but, if you are an author writing a novel then you are allowed a certain amount of artistic licence. If you consistently do so, your readers will get used to it. They may like it or loathe it but they will get used to it (or stop reading!).


Other possibilities than repeating "he"

  1. He declined the invitation to come to the party by saying,"My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight."

  2. He declined the invitation to come to the party, saying, "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight."

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He declined the invitation to come to the party, "My cat is ill, so I have to be at home tonight."

I agree with what others said. Use a period/full stop after the word “party” rather than a comma.

If “he” is the only person mentioned in the paragraph that contains what is being said, this should be fine as it’s quite clear that “he” is the one speaking.

If you’re looking for variety because you are writing something with a lot of dialogue, remember that you can use more expressive words than “said”. He could mutter, yell, whisper, utter an exclamation, or maybe even muse.

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