Formatting Dialogue within Dialogue

By Chris Saylor

Hello, everyone! I’m back from my too-long holiday break. I hope you didn’t miss me too much!

Today’s post comes from an email request. It’s about properly using apostrophes, especially in dialogue.

Apostrophes are a huge topic, so first I’ll cover what I think this requester was really wanting to know, which is how we handle what I’ll call dialogue within dialogue. In other words, how do we handle it when one of our characters is quoting someone else?

This is done by following the regular rules for dialogue, except that you need to use single quotation marks (or a single quotation mark and an apostrophe, however you prefer) around the quoted text. Here are some examples.

Jessica pursed her lips. “And when I got to the counter, he said, ‘You don’t have the right forms.’ Can you believe that?”

“Everything was going so well.” Mary wadded up a bunch of tissues in her fist. “And we were having a nice evening, and then, out of nowhere, he said, ‘I think we should see other people.’”

Do you have any questions or any other aspects of grammar for fiction writers you would like to see discussed? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Using Apostrophes.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.