I'm trying to write the following dialogue in one sentence and here's what I have:

  1. If she asks "Why?" tell her "Something came up."
  2. If she asks: Why?-tell her: Something came up.

I basically wanted to know how to do this using both styles (quotation marks, or alternatively, colons). But I don't know if I'm missing any commas or whether one of these styles is plain wrong or if there's a better alternative. I know I could also use italics but for the purposes of my writing I'd like not to. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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    The first is acceptable (though some may prefer the doubly punctuated << If she asks "Why?", tell her "Something came up." >> ). You certainly don't need the traditional introductory stops (commas or colons) after the quotatives (asks and tell her) to introduce the quotes nowadays // I'd not use direct speech quotes without inverted commas. Some modern authors do use dashes to offset, but I think these are always at the start of new paragraphs of direct speech, often for new speakers. Commented Jan 12 at 19:02
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    @EdwinAshworth Your first link is back to this question. I can't find a question with that title in ELU or Writing.SE.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 12 at 20:31
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    You don’t really have any dialog there: If she asks why, tell her [that] something came up. If somebody is saying that: He replied, “If she asks why, tell her something came up.” Commented Jan 13 at 1:04

2 Answers 2


Not seen option #2. I've seen your option #1 in narrative storytelling, script writing or reading a manuscript outloud. Adding the punctuation marks in the dialog makes it much easier to create emphasis. Like if you were narrating an audiobook, your pauses and voice changes become easier and more natural when your notes look more like that. People can get pretty wild with the self-directed punctuation for enunciation in their manuscripts. I've heard President Reagan marked up some of his speeches like that.

In regular writing, like an email or letter, I've found this more comfortable:

If she asks why, tell her something came up.

The emphasis is less on the narration and more on communication the information.


This appears to be person A speaking to person B and as such the whole thing should be inside speech makes. Thus: "If she asks why? Tell her something came up."

If you want to include speech within speech simply include the inner speech inside single quote marks thus: "John said, 'Go to the back.' but I ignored him."

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