Capitalizing Dialogue

Written by on November 21, 2017 in blog, editing, grammar, self-publishing, writing with 0 Comments

Capitalizing Dialogue

You’ve already learned about dialogue tags—I hope. Now learn how capitalizing dialogue is easy. Read on to find out how to capitalize dialogue—when to do it and when not to.

Capitalizing Dialogue

Capitalizing dialogue is one of the areas that makes authors stumble, especially new authors. Don’t let it. It’s not that difficult.

We discussed dialogue tags, now we’ll talk a little about how to capitalize when using dialogue. 
I know what you’re thinking—my editor will catch that. And they probably will, but why make them? Why not get it right the first time? You wouldn’t purposefully misspell words would you? Then why misuse dialogue?

Now that you’re convinced to learn to do it properly, let’s dig in.

Punctuating Dialogue

Dialogue can be a great way to get inside your protagonist’s or antagonist’s heads. But some dialogue is done poorly. The wrong tags are used, the wrong punctuation, and the authors either consistently use a person’s name or don’t use the name enough. Then there’s the problem I see too often—how to capitalize dialogue. 
What’s different?

A lot.

Example one. You wouldn’t ordinarily capitalize the word captain. If it began a sentence, yes, or if you referred to the person using captain as a title, such as Captain Joseph Estelle was recently promoted.

But in dialogue, you would also capitalize it if you were addressing the person even without their full name, like this:

Connie walked up the stairs. “Hey, Captain. How’s it going?”

The same thing goes for your parents or anyone else. If you can substitute the person’s name for the term, it is capitalized. Below is another example.

“Can I go to the mall, Mom?”

We capitalized mom because the boy could have just as easily said,

“Can I go to the mall, Margaret?”

He may have gotten slapped in the face, but he could have said it and had it make sense.

On the other hand, if you said, “I’m going to the mall with my mom,” no capitalization is necessary.
You couldn’t comfortably substitute a name for mom. Try it.

“I’m going to the mall with my Margaret.”

See, it doesn’t work.

That was easy, right? From now on, when writing dialogue, substitute the person’s name and see if the sentence still sounds right. If it does, capitalize. If it doesn’t, don’t.

One more thing before we sign off. The example how you would capitalize dialogue if someone were speaking to their mother. It’s missing the quotation marks because there was more dialogue on both sides of it.

capitalizing dialogue

Terms of Endearment and How to Capitalize Dialogue

Terms of endearment aren’t capitalized. For example, let’s say you call your husband “honey.” I know it’s unlikely unless you’re a newlywed, but it could happen.

You may come home from work, smell food cooking, and say

“Thanks for the dinner, honey.”

But you wouldn’t call your mother and say,

“When I got home, honey was already making dinner.”

So, you don’t capitalize in either case.

Nicknames are different.

Nicknames are substitutes for the real name to be used by anyone. One of the characters in my book, Murder Takes Time is named Doggs. That’s not his real name, but when people address him, they use his nickname.

“Give me a smoke, Doggs.” “Hey, Doggs, you got a smoke?”

Let’s assume his real name was Tony. Now, substitute Tony in each of the examples above.

“Give me a smoke, Tony.” “Hey, Tony, you got a smoke?”

As you can see, it works perfectly. No problem.

There are plenty of other punctuation rules related to dialogue such as where to put commas, how to use question marks and exclamation points, the proper way to use quotation marks, how to capitalize when the tag is in the middle of the dialogue, etc. But that’s for another time. Learn this rule regarding capitalization, and your editor will thank you for it.

Bottom Line

If you want more tips on editing and writing, you should check out my books in that series.

How to capitalize dialogue tags

Also, if you want more on capitalization, you might want to check out a post I did on What to capitalize on your résumé.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes nonfiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammarpublishing., and children’s fiction and nonfiction.

When Giacomo isn’t writing, he’s helping his wife take care of the animals on their sanctuary. At last count, they had forty animals—seven dogs, one horse, six cats, and twenty-five pigs.

Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who used to take walks with Giacomo every day.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with forty-five loving “friends.”

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About the Author

About the Author: Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammar and publishing. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends. .

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