Quotations and Dialogue

Q. In dialogue, do you spell out social titles? For example, “Mister Lewis, please come to the table.” If so, what should we do with “Ms.”? This is a different word from “Miss,” so that isn’t a totally accurate spelling. Obviously “Ms.” (pronounced “miz”) implies that marital status is unknown, while “Miss” suggests being single. Should the dialogue just be “Ms. Smith” throughout, or “Miss Smith” even though the author means “Ms.”?

A. The fact that dialogue is spoken doesn’t mean everything has to be spelled out for the reader. Use this two-part test: Is the word normally abbreviated? And if the dialogue occurred in a dramatic work, would an actor know how to speak the line? Social titles are pretty much always abbreviated before a name, and “Ms.” is pronounced “miz”—as any reader should know. So write “Ms. Smith.”