The context
There is a servant who is accusing another man to be a culprit of some petty crime. I am not sure whether the comma should be there or not.(Please see the alternatives below.)

First form: "But he has," wailed the servant, "to be the culprit!"

Second form: "But he has," wailed the servant ",to be the culprit!"

Third form: "But he has," wailed the servant "to be the culprit!"

It would be really helpful if someone could clarify.

  • 1
    I've fixed the spacing around the punctuation with an edit. Remember, there are no spaces between the quoted material and the quotation marks, but there is always a blank space just before an opening quotation mark and a blank space after a closing quotation mark.
    – J.R.
    Nov 18 '19 at 11:02

This is called a dialogue tag. When a tag is inserted into the middle of a sentence of dialogue, commas are used on both sides of the tag.

"But," wailed the servant, "he has to be the culprit!"

You also have to be careful where you insert the tag. Splitting the dialogue introduces a natural pause in the reader's mind, and this pause should not be placed in a position where it would sound unnatural. Your example, "but he has --- to be the culprit" sounds very unnatural indeed, which is why I moved the tag between "But" and the rest of the sentence.

You can also simply place the dialogue tag at the end of the sentence:

"But he has to be the culprit!" wailed the servant.

  • 1
    I agree that that the break in the original was misplaced. That said, If the writer really wanted the pause to go just after the main verb, that could be accomplished by changing "has to" to "must", I think: But he must," wailed the servant, "be the culprit!" (That rendering seems to put a heavy stress on the word must.)
    – J.R.
    Nov 18 '19 at 10:59

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