Italics and Quotation Marks

Q. If direct internal dialogue is set in italics, should the comma before the dialogue tag be set in italics or roman? CMOS 6.2 is very fuzzy on this. For example: “I lied, he thought, but maybe she will forgive me.” Imagine that the dialogue itself is set in italics. Should the first comma be italicized?

A. Good question! The comma after “lied” would be required both with the speaker tag (“I lied, he thought”) and without (“I lied, but maybe . . .”), so it could be said to belong to both the dialogue and the narrative. But adding quotation marks (as if the dialogue were speech) will suggest an answer:

“I lied,” he thought, “but maybe she will forgive me.”


I lied, he thought, but maybe she will forgive me.

The comma and period that are inside the closing quotation marks in the first version are in italics in the second version, whereas the comma after thought stays in roman. The difference is minuscule (without the bold for italics, would anyone notice?), and our solution is arbitrary. But it’s easy enough to understand and apply, so maybe we’ll make it a rule someday.