How do I quote dialogue that is not in quotation marks?

Some works render dialogue without enclosing it in punctuation that would distinguish it from the surrounding text. Treat such dialogue as you would treat any quoted material: use quotation marks to distinguish the quoted material from your prose, but retain the published formatting within the quotation—for example:

Saramago’s personification of death signs her name in lowercase letters, a detail that does not escape the prime minister and the cabinet secretary amid more momentous considerations: “The prime minister picked up the letter again, glanced over it without reading it and said, It’s odd, the initial letter of the signature should be a capital but it’s not, Yes, I found that odd too, starting a name with a lowercase letter isn’t normal . . .”  (103).

Work Cited

Saramago, José. Death with Interruptions. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Harcourt, 2008.

If you believe it will be helpful to the reader or pertinent to your argument, you can make clear in your prose or in a note that the author of the work you are quoting does not use quotation marks for dialogue. The choice to avoid quotation marks, however, does not in itself require comment, particularly if the author uses the familiar technique of distinguishing one speaker from another using line breaks or dashes. When more than one line is being quoted, it’s clearest to set such material as an extract; for example:

Grace’s commentary measures the doctor against the would-be confessors of her past.

Perhaps I will tell you lies, I say.

He doesn’t say, Grace what a wicked suggestion, you have a sinful imagination. He says, Perhaps you will. Perhaps you will tell lies without meaning to, and perhaps you will also tell them deliberately. Perhaps you are a liar.

I look at him. There are those who have said I am one, I say.

We will just have to take that chance, he says. (Atwood 41)

Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace. Anchor, 1997.

Selections can be worked into the text as you would run in any quoted material, without special formatting:

Grace’s commentary measures the doctor against the would-be confessors of her past. She proposes, “Perhaps I will tell you lies,” then notes, “He doesn’t say, Grace what a wicked suggestion, you have a sinful imagination. He says, Perhaps you will” (Atwood 41).

The following example shows original text with dashes followed by a published translation that omits them. MLA publications include English translations for text quoted in other languages, which may involve juxtaposing styles as shown here.

After they have become friends, the fox and the little prince must prepare to part:

— Ah! dit le renard…Je pleurerai.

— C’est ta faute, dit le petit prince, je ne te souhaitais point de mal, mais tu as voulu que je t’apprivoise…

— Bien sûr, dit le renard.

— Mais tu vas pleurer! dit le petit prince.

— Bien sûr, dit le renard.

— Alors tu n’y gagnes rien!

— J’y gagne, dit le renard, à cause de la couleur du blé. (Saint-Exupéry 63)

 

“Ah!” the fox said. “I shall weep.”

“It’s your own fault,” the little prince said. “I never wanted to to do you any harm, but you insisted that I tame you . . .”

“Yes, of course,” the fox said.

“But you’re going to weep!” said the little prince.

“Yes, of course,” the fox said.

“Then you get nothing out of it?”

“I get something” the fox said, “because of the color of the wheat.” (Howard 61)

Works Cited

Howard, Richard, translator. The Little Prince. By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Harcourt, 2000.

Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. Le petit prince. Harcourt, 1943.

For more tips on quoting dialogue, see “How do I punctuate quoted dialogue from a novel?”