When quoting something said by someone else, should I use a comma before the quote?
Suppose I quote the definition given in a dictionary. Am I correctly using the the punctuation marks in the following sentences? (I am using them in the way I think correct in American English.)

One of the meanings of cat is, "a small animal with soft fur that people often keep as a pet."

A cadet is, "a young person who is training to become an officer in the police or armed forces."

Should I use a comma only when I explicitly quote somebody?

Groucho Marx once said, "Although it is generally known, I think it's about time to announce that I was born at a very early age."

Should I use a comma in this case too?

As Groucho Marx said,

No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend.

On Comma Sense, A fun-damental guide to punctuation (Richard Lederer and John Shore), I read the following about using the comma:

Use commas to set off complete quotations:

The great general George S. Patton once said, "No, no—the war is this way, you idiots!"

  • kiam, why are you asking for commas here, and not, rather, for colons, which, as you know, are commonly used in sentences like those you wrote? Per esempio, "A cadet is: "blah, blah, blah.", "Groucho Marx once said: "blah, blah, blah.", eccetera. Is there something that make you think that commas are used in those cases?
    – user114
    Jul 20, 2013 at 13:10
  • 4
    American English doesn't require any punctuation. Some American publishers do. I myself would not use a comma (or, @Carlo_R, any other point) in any of these instances; but if a publisher wants to pay for the privilege of "correcting" my punctuation I will be happy to listen to his offer. Jul 20, 2013 at 13:42
  • What Stoney said. Personally I'd use a colon in the last example because whenever I interrupt an incomplete sentence and move to another formatting section, I always use a colon. It's more about the formatting than the actual sentence, there. But yes, in all the other circumstances I wouldn't use any punctuation. I actually think it reads oddly with the punctuation, personally. The comma implies a pause in speaking that isn't there. I wouldn't pause between "a cadet is" and "a young person who." The comma adds an unrealistic pause, IMO.
    – WendiKidd
    Jul 20, 2013 at 13:58
  • @Carlo_R. Nope. It's commas, not colons. I am sure I read it correctly. :))(See the reference I added to the question.)
    – apaderno
    Jul 20, 2013 at 16:36
  • @StoneyB Probably it is just a matter of style. I need just to understand what the book I am reading is saying, and if I am not generalizing too much what the authors are saying.
    – apaderno
    Jul 20, 2013 at 16:54

4 Answers 4


I've found a few sources that say to use a comma before the quotations, but they all seem to have different standards.

This one just says to use them all the time.

  1. Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation.

This source has a rule for short quotations.

Rule 16

Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations shorter than three lines.


He actually said, "I do not care."
"Why," I asked, "do you always forget to do it?"

And this last source has different rules for different situations.

First, use a comma to separate quoted material from the rest of the sentence that explains or introduces the quotation. If you are splitting the quotation with attributing the person, you will need two commas.

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many things."

But if you are introducing the quote with the word that or the quote is only a small segment of the sentence, do not use a comma.

Peter Coveney writes that "[t]he purpose and strength of […]."
We often say "Sorry" when we don't really mean it.

The last thing explains when to use a colon instead of a comma.

Use a colon to set off explanatory or introductory language from a quoted element that is either very formal or long (especially if it's longer than one sentence):

Peter Coveney had this to say about the nineteenth-century's use of children in fiction: "The purpose and strength of […]."

  • Why is sorry capitalized in one of your examples?
    – Edd
    Jun 1, 2018 at 17:04

If it was a complete sentence before the quotes, use a colon. If there's a phrase ending with a verb, use a comma. If the sentence ends in a subordinating conjunction, use no punctuation. (words like "that") Never use a semi-colon when introducing a quote. Never have a sentence with a period before a quote.


I tend to use commas in a dialogue, otherwise, I prefer colons. . . . to which Steve said, "What time are you coming home?"

(or) Jones argued: "If he was the only victim, why did they find three DNA signatures from blood collected at the crime scene?"

In academic writing, I favor the colon. In informal registers, the comma.


Punctuation relates to how we would say something. A comma indicates a short pause. That could be worth considering. Read these out loud.

I always say "thank you" when I get a present.

I always say, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

  • 7
    This is actually a horrible, pernicious bit of advice that only works if the speaker already knows where to put commas and thus pauses where commas should be. If the speaker doesn't know commas, it produces very reliable errors. Commas do not indicate pauses; they separate chunks of sentences to allow clarity, much as math uses parentheses (as well as ordering) to indicate which operations are done first.
    – A.Beth
    Jan 27, 2015 at 6:03

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