I was browsing this WritingPrompt and stumbled upon this:

The bartender put a palm on his waist, "Say what?"

As seen from the above, before the dialogue, there are no speech/writing/thinking verbs (say, wrote, thought, etc.), whatever they're called, yet a comma is used. Is that correct? Should it not be a period instead?

  • 1
    "You go away like this," he pointed to the thumb, "and come back like this," he touched the little finger. Every one laughed. -- He smiled, "I must make on Miss Barkley the impression of a man of sufficient wealth. You are my great and good friend and financial protector." -- He wiped his hands on his jumper and grinned. "You have a good time?" The others all grinned too. -- She looked at me, "And you do love me?" -- some examples from A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 17:25
  • @DamkerngT. Hmm, I'm even more confused. When should a comma be used then versus a period? Whenever an action merges with dialogue? Would something such as: He smiled, "Hello there." be correct then?
    – john2546
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:36
  • "Correct" is a very tricky notion. I'd say, out of context, it probably isn't correct. But in the middle of a book, where a conversation is full in swing? No one is going to call it wrong. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


I mean, it's a pretty arbitrary rule that every utterance in a book must be attached to "So-and-so said". That's why there are quotation marks, so that you know it's a quotation, even if it isn't marked as such with words. It's important to make sure you keep it clear which people are talking (though a lot of authors don't), but it's also important to keep the flow of narration.

The commas help with both. They attribute the quotation to the subject of the sentence, and they aren't as hard of a break in the flow as a period is.

  • So generally speaking, in the examples I've given, it should usually be a period instead of a comma, but in instances when it, undesirably, breaks the flow of text, a comma is acceptable?
    – john2546
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:39
  • It is not correct in the sense that the current formal style, as it has been for roughly the past century, maybe a century and a half, does not do this. Before that, periods were less common. We're already reaching the point where the language of our Declaration of Independence is slipping out of the general range of comprehension. And you should see how many commas were used in that introduction. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 0:19
  • My point being, if you used this sort of grammar in a paper for elementary school, sure, it'd get some red marks. But it's another thing entirely to run into it out in the real world, where no one is going to grade your book as long as it reads well. Yes, it's definitely acceptable, but still not "correct". Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 0:21

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