Which of the following would be best practice, and why and according to whom?

  1. Alice says, “Bob said, ‘Hello’ ” and she smiles at the memory.
  2. Alice says, “Bob said, ‘Hello’, ” and she smiles at the memory.
  3. Alice says, “Bob said, ‘Hello,’ ” and she smiles at the memory.
  4. Alice says, “Bob said, ‘Hello,’ ,” and she smiles at the memory.

Presumably (1) is wrong. (3) I like on aesthetic grounds, but I can’t think of a principle that would choose (3) over (2) or vice-versa. (4) seems pedantic and ugly to me; unfortunately it also seems sensible, in a way.

  • 1
    Not liking Alice says "Bob said 'Hello'" and she smiles at the memory? You can check style guides but most focus on academic writing not prose fiction (except The New Yorker's eccentric version maybe). Otherwise, you can do what you like.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 23, 2023 at 9:46
  • Mostly they look a bit American to me. As a Brit, I'd just write Alice says "Bob said Hello", and she smiles at the memory and be done with it. Actually, I probably wouldn't capitalize "hello", though. Reported speech within reported speech seems pointless here. Nov 23, 2023 at 13:24
  • The commas before reported speech are not part of Canadian English, and I don't think they are usual in American English either. Nov 23, 2023 at 15:04
  • @FumbleFingers I don't think there is any AmE/BrE difference here at all...But I guess we all need to watch out for "edge cases".
    – Lambie
    Nov 23, 2023 at 15:11
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers: I'd say (1) and (3) are the only ones that look at all American. (2) looks British to me (our style guides say never to put commas after quotation marks, although I don't always follow that advice), and (4) is what you might expect from a computer programmer. Nov 23, 2023 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


What did Bob say? "Hello." — probably with a period after it. One convention (I believe there are others) is to turn periods into commas when you quote text and the period doesn't fall at the end of a sentence, so

Alice says, "Bob said, 'Hello,'" and she smiles at the memory.

is a perfectly good way to write it.

You need a comma after "Hello" because it's a complete sentence (maybe it's not technically a sentence, but it's a complete utterance). However, using two commas after "Hello" is just perverse.

  • Thanks Peter! Isn't it good practice to introduce quotes with either a comma or a colon? I can convince myself that you don't need the comma before indirect speech (it seems to me that people usually mean indirect speech as opposed to direct speech by the term reported speech; this usage diverges from the usage on this thread so I'm becoming more confused) b/c it's like any other verb + direct object. But it still looks to me like it's convention to use some punctuation or other to introduce quoted stuff. Thoughts?
    – brianyin99
    Nov 23, 2023 at 22:52
  • @brianyin99: I had somehow thought the comma was optional for very short pieces of dialog, but I am not so sure now; looking online, there always seems to be a comma in "He said, 'Hello.'" Changing my answer. Nov 23, 2023 at 22:58
  • 1
    The second she is superfluous because it’s the same subject, so if I had any say in it I would change she says…and she smiles to read she says…and smiles. Once the second subject is gone it goes from a compound sentence with two conjoined independent clauses to a simpler one with a single subject sharing a now-compound predicate, at which point few(er?) editors would demand an extra comma—one hopes. :)
    – tchrist
    Nov 24, 2023 at 0:24
  • @tchrist that's elegant, thanks!
    – brianyin99
    Nov 24, 2023 at 6:01

There is absolutely no need for the commas before the reported speech. Either of them.

The best version of this sentence is:

Alice says "Bob said 'Hello,'" and she smiles at the memory.

You could also write

Alice says "Bob said 'Hello,'", and she smiles at the memory.

This is completely in agreement with a version that doesn't use reported speech. Either of the following would be acceptable.

Alice passes on Bob's greeting and she smiles at the memory.

Alice passes on Bob's greeting, and she smiles at the memory.

  • While I'd do as you recommend, 'There definitely should not be commas within the quotations (inverted commas?) at the end of the speeches' is contrary to style advice common in the US. Nov 23, 2023 at 16:50
  • @EdwinAshworth: It is also contrary to the style used in several newspapers in Britain, for example The Guardian. Nov 23, 2023 at 17:23
  • I'm surprised by that. I've never seen commas before the closing inverted commas in a speech. Not that I disbelieve you, but can you link to the style guides? Nov 23, 2023 at 17:29
  • 1
    @DJClayworth: LInk to the Guardian Style Guide. They say "Place full points and commas inside the quotes for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise the point comes outside." (And I'm fairly sure you've seen it; you just haven't noticed it.) Nov 23, 2023 at 17:33
  • See the links given by the Raven. Nov 23, 2023 at 19:18

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