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Please help me, what is the right punctuation for this dialog (direct speech) in German?

"I am John," he said. "Who are you?"

"Ich bin John", sagte er. "Wer bist du?"

I know I'm supposed to delete the double quotes and use (em or en) dashes instead, but I'm not sure how many of them I need, and where to place them.

marked as duplicate by Björn Friedrich, Arsak, Robert, peterh, Hubert Schölnast Feb 9 '18 at 22:13

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Your use of quotation marks and other punctuation is quite good. The only thing to pay attention to, in professional publishing, is the correct variety of quotation marks. Most usual in German is:

„Ich bin John“, sagte er. „Wer bist du?“

with "99-66" style marks. But also

»Ich bin John«, sagte er. »Wer bist du?«

is a form that is used in professionally typeset and printed material.

Of course, in e-mails and other on-screen stuff (like here) it has become normal to use the simple quotation marks as you did:

"Ich bin John", sagte er. "Wer bist du?"

This was also the way things were written on mechanical typewriters. Typewriters did not have upper and lower quotation marks, they had simply the lazy double marks in top position, and from that time on everybody has been used to this way of punctuation for all kinds of documents that do not come out of a printing press.

Modern word processing software (MS Word, LibreOffice Writer, and so on) usually has a mechanism to help those who write German: the software recognises whether quotation marks are at the beginning or the end of a phrase (simply by watching out where is the blank) and replaces the lazy »"« by the typographically desired ones.

Further reading

Regarding the use of quotation marks, comma, semicolon, etc. I recommend

Duden Handbuch Zeichensetzung. Der praktische Ratgeber zu Komma, Punkt und anderen Satzzeichen. 2. Auflage 2014. Duden-Verlag Berlin.

which has many examples for recommended use of punctuation. Your case is addressed on Page 220, Section 262 ("Wörtliche Wiedergabe") as well as Page 229 (Section 279 "Formen der wörtlichen Wiedergabe, Typ 2").

Quite an intricate topic is what to do when quotation marks and other punctuation marks hit each other. Such cases a discussed in Sections 265-277. I can hardly repeat all that here, but here are a number of well-formed examples that may serve for orientation:

»Achtung!«, rief sie.

»Kommst du morgen?«, fragte Heinz.

»Ich weiß nicht, wie es weitergehen soll ...«, sagte sie.

Hat sie gesagt: »Ich komme«?

Schreib ihm: »Ich komme«!

Antworte doch: »Was fällt Ihnen ein?«!

Wenn er zu dir sagt: »Ich komme wieder«, dann glaub ihm kein Wort.

Note that all this follows a strict logic of "what phrase does a punctuation mark belong to?"

  • What do you mean by “what phrase does a punctuation mark belong to?”? :-) – Philipp Feb 9 '18 at 11:52

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