Use Commas or Other Punctuation to Set Off Speaker Tags

Set off speaker tags with a comma or other punctuation.

Speaker tags are short phrases such as “he said” or “she replied” or “David yelled” or “Sally asked.”

Bill asked, “How are you?”

Sally replied, “I am well.”

Note: These sentences are also correct.

“How are you?” Bill asked.

“What time is it?” the stranger asked.

“Help!” he shouted.

When friends Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon made the movie Buddy, Buddy, Mr. Matthau took a bad spill on the set. Worried, Mr. Lemmon folded his jacket and tenderly put it under Mr. Matthau’s head, then asked, “Are you comfortable?” Mr. Matthau replied, “I make a living.”

When Fay Kanin started writing for the movies, she told her boss, Sam Marx, the story editor at MGM, “Mr. Marx, I know you own Gone with the Wind. I’ve read it, and I would be a wonderful writer for it.” He smiled at her brashness and said, “I think they have in mind a more expensive writer for it.” Ms. Kanin always appreciated that he used the word “expensive” instead of the word “talented.”

While studying at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Keith Haring used to create art on long lengths of paper—the paper was so long that he rolled it out the door and onto the city sidewalk. Passersby used to talk to him about his art. Mr. Haring later said, “Most of them weren’t the type to go to art galleries, but a lot of their comments struck me as more perceptive than those of my teachers and fellow students.” In 1990, Mr. Haring died of AIDS.

While Andre Previn was married to Mia Farrow, he belonged to the Garrick Club. One day, the club secretary invited him to bring Mia to dinner there, but added, “By the way, you must forgive me for this, but she can’t use the main staircase. The women have to go round the back.” This shocked Mr. Previn, and when he told his wife about the invitation—and about women not being allowed to use the main staircase—she replied, “You have 10 minutes in which to quit the club.” Fortunately, he had the perfect reply: “I’ve already done it.” Years later, Mr. Previn said, “Unbelievable. Mia was the wrong person to try that on.”

When World War II hero John F. Kennedy first entered politics, he became a United States Representative, and then he started campaigning for a seat in the Senate. While running for Senator, he campaigned in Fall River, Massachusetts, where many people were of French descent. Unfortunately, his Fall River manager, Ed Berube, made a notable mistake when he introduced Mr. Kennedy at the very first Fall River political meeting. Mr. Berube stood up and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like you to meet Congressman Joe Martin.” Not only did Mr. Berube get Mr. Kennedy’s name wrong, but Joe Martin was a Republican! Mr. Berube thought he would be fired, but Mr. Kennedy thought the mistake was funny and went ahead with his campaign speech, saying, “Maybe Ed would rather be working with Joe Martin, but I’d rather have him working for me.”

Theatrical director Tyrone Guthrie once made a mistake in directing an actress in Henry VIII. Diana Wynyard was playing Queen Katherine, and Mr. Guthrie told her that she was saying a line wrong and to look it up. Later, they were rehearsing the scene again, and Ms. Wynyard said the line the same way she had said it previously. Once again, Mr. Guthrie told her that she was saying the line wrong and to look it up. Ms. Wynyard said, “I have looked it up. I am right, and you are wrong.” Mr. Guthrie replied, “In that case, I apologize and I have a very red face.”

A teacher thought about having each of her students make up a list of the 10 greatest Americans, but then she decided that 10 was too obvious a number, so she instead asked her class to make up a list of the 11 greatest Americans. One boy spent longer than the others in making up his list, and she asked why he needed so much time. The boy replied, “I can’t decide on the fullback.”

Ludwig van Beethoven comforted Baroness von Ertmann after the death of one of her children by saying to her, “We will now talk to each other in tones,” then playing the piano for over an hour for her. The Baroness said later, “He told me everything with his music, and at last brought me comfort.”

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