Q. Would Chicago weigh in on whether a comma can be used to introduce a block quotation? The second example in CMOS 13.23 suggests that this is acceptable when the quotation continues from the paragraph that introduces it. But what about situations like the following?
According to commentator Jean Smith,
Life for many in the province has been increasingly difficult for nearly a decade . . .
This question has been debated in the forums for years, so we would all love to have some light shed on the subject!
A. A block quotation makes it easier for readers to distinguish the words of a longer quotation from the surrounding text. It can also be used for shorter quotations that require special emphasis.
But aside from that, a block quotation is no different from a quotation that’s been run in to the surrounding text and identified with the help of quotation marks, like this:
According to commentator Jean Smith, “Life for many in the province has been increasingly difficult for nearly a decade . . .”
If the quotation would normally be introduced with a comma, use a comma when it’s presented as a block. The comma in your example is perfect, as is the capital L in “Life.”
Q. My author wants to know whether a comma is called for in constructions like the following, where a conjunction follows the dialogue tag but doesn’t introduce an independent clause: “It’s very clear,” she replied[,] and moved off to a nearby tree. I tend to think it’s needed but can’t articulate why. I also think it needs to be “she replied, and THEN moved off.” Can you help?
A. This is a common question. Normally, a comma wouldn’t be required before the conjunction in a sentence that features a compound predicate (see CMOS 6.23):
She replied and moved off to a nearby tree.
But in dialogue, a speaker tag is usually set off from a quotation by a comma; it makes sense that, by a similar logic, the speaker tag would also be set off from any action or other narration that occurs in the same sentence:
“It’s very clear,” she replied, and moved off to a nearby tree.
And that’s what we’d advise—unless your author favors a style that’s notably light on commas and asks that you leave commas like that one out. In either case, you could add then after and, as you suggest.
Or you could switch to the present participle for the action verb, in which case a comma would be required:
“It’s very clear,” she replied, moving off to a nearby tree.
If the sequence of events is important, add a word like before or while:
“It’s very clear,” she replied, before moving off to a nearby tree.
Whatever approach you use, aim for consistency across like contexts.
Q. I recently became aware that many sources insist one absolutely must use a comma after “said” to punctuate sentences like this one: She looked up and said, “Hi.” Is this really a universal rule? The more I look into it, the more I feel I’ve slipped into an alternate universe.
A. According to CMOS 13.40, common one-word utterances can usually be introduced without the help of a comma—and without quotation marks or an initial capital:
She looked up and said hi.
We told her no.
Don’t ask me why.
But when such words are presented as direct discourse—as in the dialogue of a novel or story—they are usually placed in quotation marks and set off by a comma, like any other quoted words of dialogue:
She looked up and said, “Hi.”
“Hi,” I replied, a little embarrassed by the echo.
This convention suggests that the word or words in quotation marks were literally spoken as written. But it can be awkward to put the speaker ahead of the quotation. To smooth things out, try reversing the order:
“Hi,” she said, looking up.
For some additional considerations, see “Is a Comma Needed to Introduce Dialogue” in Fiction+ at CMOS Shop Talk.
Q. I can’t get a consensus from fellow professional editors on how to punctuate the following sentence:
“So up there,” Joe pointed at the window, “that was you waving at me?”
Since there isn’t a dialogue tag, some say to use em dashes per CMOS 6.87.
However, I believe em dashes should be reserved for special emphasis, and pointing isn’t important. Changing the wording changes the author’s consistent writing style.
It’s obvious that Joe is speaking, so why would we need a dialogue tag as well as the action beat in order to use commas? Can’t we eliminate “said” if it’s clear who is speaking and only use the action beat?
Thank you very much for your help.
A. Your example is clear enough and will probably work for most readers. But it does break with convention, according to which commas used with narrative interruptions also require true speech tags. People don’t point words, they say them:
“So up there,” Joe said, pointing at the window, “that was you waving at me?”
If you want to leave out the speech tag, that same convention would require either em dashes or periods, because now the narrative interruption has lost its immediate connection to the spoken dialogue:
“So up there”—Joe pointed at the window—“that was you waving at me?”
“So up there.” Joe pointed at the window. “That was you waving at me?”
Otherwise, it’s not much better than either of these:
“So up there,” Joe pointed at the window.
Joe pointed at the window, “That was you waving at me?”
On the other hand, if the author’s style regularly features comma splices, your version is fine; through repetition, readers will catch on. If not, consider the alternatives.
Q. CMOS 6.65: “A colon may also be used to introduce a quotation or a direct but unquoted question, especially where the introduction constitutes a grammatically complete sentence.” MUST a colon be used or is a period after the introductory sentence also correct?
A. If it will be obvious to readers how the quotation fits with the surrounding text, a period can work just fine. If not, use a colon.
Jerzy was always talking about how she’s an astronaut. “I’ve been to the moon twice. I have the receipts.” We almost felt sorry for her.
Unprompted, Jerzy announced the reason for her recent absence: “I was on the moon. Again.” We didn’t know whether to be jealous or mad.
The colon is often the better choice; readers tend to appreciate such signals. But a period can be less insistent. Either one is correct.
Q. When a quotation is introduced with “According to So-and-So” or “As So-and-So said,” is the first word capitalized?
A. Full-sentence quotations introduced with “According to So-and-So” or “As So-and-So said,” just like quotations introduced with “So-and-So said” (or “wrote” or the like), usually begin with a capital letter. For example,
According to Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.”
As Gertrude Stein once wrote, “There is no there there.”
Gertrude Stein once wrote that “there is no there there.”
In that last example, the words are incorporated into the syntax of the surrounding sentence, so the quotation begins lowercase.
Note that Stein’s words begin with a lowercase t in the original text, where they occur at the end of a characteristically long run-on sentence: “She took us to see her granddaughter who was teaching in the Dominican convent in San Raphael, we went across the bay on a ferry, that had not changed but Goat Island might just as well not have been there, anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there” (Everybody’s Autobiography [1937; Vintage Books, 1973], 289).
For more on capitalization in direct quotations, see CMOS 13.18–21.
Q. In fiction, when a character’s entire dialogue is quoted material or a quoted title of a work, do I need to use both double and single quotation marks around the dialogue? Thanks!
A. We would recommend using use both sets of marks. For example,
“What did Bartleby say?” he asked.
“ ‘I would prefer not to,’ ” I replied.
“What’s that from?” he asked.
“ ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener,’ ” I replied. “It’s a famous story.”
In the second line of dialogue, the nested single quotation marks remind readers that the first-person narrator of “I replied” isn’t the same person as the “I” in quotation marks; rather, those are Bartleby’s words. In the fourth line, the nested quotation marks are somewhat less important, but consider that if “Bartleby” were a novel instead of a story, the title would be in italics; the single quotation marks play a similar role. See also CMOS 6.11.
Q. When a character in a novel or story is speaking and pauses or falters between two sentences, and that pause is indicated with an ellipsis, is it correct or incorrect to add a period after the first sentence?
A. In fiction the convention is to limit ellipses to three dots—whether the ellipsis follows a complete sentence or not, and whether the ellipsis indicates a faltering or trailing off or a more definite pause. This convention applies equally to dialogue and narration. Following the ellipsis, you can use a capital letter to indicate the start of a new sentence, especially to signal a definite shift (as in the fourth example):
“Will . . . will you help me?” It took all his courage to ask.
“Don’t try to help me . . . just don’t.” Dylan wouldn’t even look at us.
“Don’t try to help me . . . you wouldn’t understand.”
We had so many adventures . . . It’s sad that they’re now done.
Though a sentence-ending period isn’t retained with an ellipsis, a question mark or an exclamation point is. The placement of these marks relative to the ellipsis will depend on context and emphasis:
“Stop! . . . Stop, I tell you!” The chase was on.
“So you’re married . . . !” He waited in vain for his friend to deny it.
“So you’re married . . . ?” The question hung in the air.
For some additional considerations, see “Prose, Interrupted: Signaling Breaks in Dialogue,” at CMOS Shop Talk. For the use of ellipses to indicate omissions, in which case a period is usually retained before an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, see CMOS 13.50–58.
Q. When breaking dialogue with narration (where the verb used is not describing speaking), how should the punctuation appear? “Yes, this is fine,” she stood up. “Please go ahead.” Or should it be: “Yes, this is fine.” She stood up. “Please go ahead.” What if it were “nodded” instead of “stood up”? What about in: “Look,” she pointed to the road, “a blue car.” Do we need to add “said” (or similar verbs) here? Thanks for your time.
A. We’ve seen questions like this before. They usually come down to one thing: Can a person do something other than speak or write their words or communicate them using a signed language? In other words, can you smile the word hello or nod to someone in English? If you agree that people do not literally stand or nod or point—or smile—their words, structure your dialogue accordingly:
“Yes, this is fine,” she said, standing up. “Please go ahead.”
“Yes, this is fine.” She stood up. “Please go ahead.”
Nodding, however, comes closer to speech than standing does, and some editors would allow a construction like this one:
“Yes, this is fine,” she nodded. “Please go ahead.”
This leeway might be extended to smiling and shrugging and similar gestures that play a supporting role for many people when they talk. Pointing is also a gesture, but many editors would draw the line before allowing that verb as a dialogue tag. Instead, they’d edit your example to maintain a distinction between speaking and pointing:
“Look,” she said, pointing to the road, “a blue car.”
“Look.” She pointed to the road. “A blue car.”
“Look”—she pointed to the road—“a blue car.”
Opinions vary. Editors can help by asking an author first before making wholesale changes.
Q. How would it be best to punctuate spoken dialogue when a word is repeated to change or clarify meaning? For example: I “like” like you. (Alternatively: I like-like you.) Meaning: I am romantically attracted to you.
A. You are referring to the phenomenon known as contrastive focus reduplication (or simply contrastive reduplication), a term coined by Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell; see “Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (The Salad-Salad Paper),” Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 22 (2004): 307–57.
Ghomeshi et al.’s paper describes the effect of this repetition as “denoting the prototypical instance of the reduplicated lexical expression” (p. 308). In other words, it’s like adding “really” or “real” before the repeated verb or noun: I don’t just like you, I really like you. To illustrate the phenomenon, the text of Ghomeshi et al.’s paper uses an en dash between repeated words and, for repeated phrases, hyphens in addition to the en dash; to show the emphasis typical of such expressions, the first term is in all caps:
I’ll make the tuna salad, and you make the SALAD–salad.
Oh, we’re not LIVING-TOGETHER–living-together. (p. 308)
CMOS does not yet weigh in on this phenomenon, but we would probably say that in ordinary prose the dashes and hyphens are unnecessary. The capital letters provide a helpful cue, but italics, which are a little less emphatic, would be more appropriate in most situations. Here’s what that would look like:
I don’t simply like you, I like you like you.
Your idea of using quotation marks for the first term is a good one, especially when italics are not an option and when ALL CAPS or SMALL CAPS would feel like too much. But quotation marks might be read as scare quotes, making them more appropriate for irony than for emphasis.
In sum, Ghomeshi et al.’s approach works well in an academic paper on contrastive reduplication. But in a novel or a story or an ordinary piece of journalism, italics alone should suffice. Anything more than that would be overkill—as in, like, overkill overkill.