Writing Dialogues in Spanish - Punctuation
Dialogues in Spanish start with a long dash – (raya) not a short dash - (guión).
In this article, we will simply call the long dash, a dash.
–Estoy listo. (= "I am ready")
Notice how there is no space between the dash and the first letter.
Dialogues do not end in a dash (–) , only the normal punctuation sign (normally a full stop, question mark, or exclamation mark).
Punctuation with Attributives
A dash is also used to introduce an attributive. An attributive in a dialogue credits the speech to the person who said it. It refers to a verb or action associated with speaking and who said it.
–dijo él. (= he said)
–respondió ella. (= she responded)
–preguntó. (= he/she asked)
Again, the dash is joined to first letter of the first word. Also notice how that first word, normally a “speaking” verb starts with a lowercase letter.
More examples of “speaking” verbs in Spanish are:
aceptó (accepted), aconsejó (advised), admitió (admitted), afirmó (affirmed/asserted), amenazó (threatened), bromeó (joked), comentó (commented), concluyó (concluded), dijo (said), gritó (shouted), mintió (lied), preguntó (asked), prometió (promised), repitió (repeated), respondió (responded), rogó (begged), sugirió (suggested), susurró (whispered).
Now let’s look at both parts joined together: The speech and the attributive.
–Estoy lista –dijo ella.
There is no period (full stop) at the end of the first part since it is continued by an attributive. We can only put a question mark, an explanation mark or ellipsis (three dots) in the speech part when it is followed by an attributive.
See how there is a space between what is being said and the dash that is joined to the attributive.
Remember, the speaker’s attributive begins with a lowercase letter.
–¿Estás bien? –preguntó Diego.
–Sí, estoy bien –le contestó Angélica con una sonrisa.
The speech of each person is written a separate line.
The first speech has the question marks directly after the words. The second speech does NOT have the period (full stop) directly after what is said. Here it appears at the end of the attributive.
What happens if there is more dialogue after the attributive?
–Estoy lista –dijo ella–. Me voy a la fiesta.
First we add a dash to the end of the attributive. This is followed by the final punctuation mark of the first part of speech. In the example above, Estoy lista should end in a period (full stop) but instead, it goes after the dash at the end of the attributive. Since it is a new sentence, the second part begins with a capital letter.
If it helps, you can think of the dashes in –dijo ella– as parentheses.
But look at the following:
–Estoy lista –dijo ella–, y nadie me va a parar.
Here the dialogue is a longer sentence that is interrupted by the attributive. Since the punctuation mark is a comma, the second part continues with a lowercase letter.
However, if the first part ends in a question mark, exclamation mark or an ellipsis (three dots), then this goes at the end of the first part.
–¡Estás loco! –gritó Daniel–. Tienes que parar inmediatamente.
If the narrator’s comment has nothing to do with a speaking or thinking verb (including related actions like shouting, whispering etc.) then the narrator’s sentence begins with a capital letter.
–Me voy. –Cerró la puerta y salió.
Using the Colon in dialogue
Until now, we have only seen the attributive (speaking verb) after what is being said. However, sometimes you have what the narrator says before the speech. In this case we use a colon after the "speaking verb".
Mi madre dijo:
–Vamos en diez minutos.
Le preguntó al doctor:
The dialogue goes on the next line.
Punctuation when thinking
When a person is directly THINKING instead of speaking, then the punctuation « » (comillas) are used instead of the dash.
These are known as comillas angulares, comillas latinas, and also comillas españolas.
«¡Qué aburrido!», pensé. Pero no me atreví a decirlo.
«Hay algo raro aquí», pensó el detective.
–Puedes llegar a ser un buen jugador –le expliqué y pensé, «aunque nunca tan bueno como yo».
Notice the position of the period (full stop) and comma go after the final closing comilla.
Punctuation when quoting
Quotes, or repeating what someone else has said, are enclosed in comillas.
Fue Descartes quien dijo: «Pienso, luego existo».
Sus últimas palabras fueron: «No pasará nada».
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