So, in my native language (Russian), you can write something like this (dashes separate lines of two interlocutors),

"Hey, John!" — "Hey, Pete!" — "How's the family?" — "So far so good!"

I want to do the same in English. Can I? If not, what are the alternatives?

  • So you mean those dialogues form part of a paragraph that has other text materials in it? What are the dashes in between them - text? – AIQ Nov 19 '19 at 20:54
  • The dashes simply separate one line from the other – Sergey Zolotarev Nov 19 '19 at 20:58
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    @SergeyZolotarev I agree with userr2684291. If you decide to incorporate a style that is not widely used, then you should expect readers to get confused (and in some cases even frustrated). There is nothing wrong with following a different style. But you have to think about your audience and what they expect. Em dashes have specific purposes - I don't think you can use em dashes like that. – AIQ Nov 19 '19 at 21:56
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    @SergeyZolotarev And I don't think you can actually pinpoint who downvoted the question. Just so you know I did not downvote this question either. But here are few reasons why someone might have. Your question does not conform to the guideline in the help center: How do I ask a good question. You don't mention what research you have done to solve your problem - that is quite important here in ELL. Your question is also hard to understand - you don't provide examples (show us a written paragraph with normal text and dialogues). – AIQ Nov 19 '19 at 22:02
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    You can write that way if you want. To a native speaker such as myself the way you wrote looks very cluttered to the point of me not even wanting to read the text so as to try to figure out who's saying what. Also, you could probably improve this question by not saying "so" at the beginning. – green_ideas Nov 19 '19 at 22:34

I keep saying this: capitalization, punctuation, and paragraphing are specified in style guides. Style guides differ. Nor do capitalization, punctuation, and paragraphing even exist in speech, which is probably 95% of the English uttered. I'd say that they are not part of grammar strictly defined. No one says e. e. cummings wrote bad English because he was idiosyncratic in his capitalization.

But most style guides have many commonalities one of which is putting the speech of different characters in separate paragraphs. If you do not follow that guidance, you are very likely to confuse and annoy native English readers. Writers like e. e. cummings are the exception.

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    @SergeyZolotarev You are of course free (in many countries anyway) to say or write whatever you like, however you like. Native speakers of the language you do it in are similarly free to find the way you said or wrote it confusing, strange, and counter to the norms of the language. On this site we try to advise people so that they can avoid the latter. Jeff has done that here, so I'm upvoting the answer. – TypeIA Nov 19 '19 at 21:19
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    There are no situations when you can't start a new paragraph. (except in stack exchange comment boxes). If you are so limited in formatting that you can't start a new paragraph, then the context is informal enough that there are no fixed style rules. Do whatever you think is best. Your solution is not standard, but it is fine (if you really need to quote a dialogue in a comment box) – James K Nov 19 '19 at 22:01
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    "Paragraphing police" - after an arrest, expect a long sentence. – Michael Harvey Nov 19 '19 at 22:35
  • So this question isn't about speech, but orthography. That's fine. I'm sure the author of the question is aware that his question is not about speech. I don't feel like you've answered him at all. – BadZen Dec 16 '19 at 2:44
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    @BadZen My point, which you seem to have missed entirely, is that the OP CAN do what he wants without violating any rules of English grammar and without being undecipherable. That is EXACTLY what he wanted to be told. I even gave him an example of an author who consistently ignored common orthography yet was admired. I warned him, however, that what he wants to do would likely annoy or confuse many readers. What did you want me to do? Lie by telling the OP that his desired orthography would be indecipherable. Or lie by indicating that it would found acceptable by many readers. – Jeff Morrow Dec 16 '19 at 12:40

It quite simply is not standard English orthography to put multiple utterances by different speakers in the same paragraph.

I know it's not what you want to hear, but we have all had the rule drilled into us since middle school: New speaker -- new paragraph. Every time.

The exception is reportative first person, where a narrator is telling others what a person said or did; in that case the speech counts as the person speaking "now", not the person speaking "originally".

This makes a lot of written English have many, many paragraphs when there is dialogue. That's just the way it is. The only alternatives are to "break the rules", and most English readers will find this very jarring or confusing. Certainly if you just used the Russian emdash most English readers would not know that the speaker had changed - and even when they understood what you were doing, it would still be slow and difficult to read and seem rushed or jumbled.

There are some authors that do this with frequency, precisely to generate that jarring effect or confusion. But they would fail a writing class.

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  • I do wonder if it would be natural by now, especially to younger readers, to see dialogue between two people on alternating sides of the page, as the dialogue might appear in an "instant message" session! But this is obviously still "rule breaking", and although it's not technically paragraphs, it's still a break with lots of space in between. – BadZen Dec 16 '19 at 2:53

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