None of his books use quotation marks for direct speech. For example:

— Will he come? The jejune jesuit!
Ceasing, he began to shave with care.
— Tell me, Mulligan, Stephen said quietly.
— Yes, my love?
— How long is Haines going to stay in this tower?
Buck Mulligan showed a shaven cheek over his right shoulder.

From Ulysses, Chapter 1.

The fellows talked together in little groups. One fellow said:
—They were caught near the Hill of Lyons.
—Who caught them?
—Mr Gleeson and the minister. They were on a car. The same fellow added:
—A fellow in the higher line told me.

From A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Chapter 1.

Is there some particular reason?

Before reading the comments and responses I was not aware that the use of quotation dash was common in other languages. My purpose for asking the question was, as someone guessed, to find out whether Joyce aimed to achieve some theatrical effect or maybe introduce purposeful ambiguity by choosing the dash over the quotation mark. Or did he want to use the device that is common to plays - and if so did he explicitly ever mention why they are preferable to him?

I do not think that it is a question for English Language and Usage because I am not questioning whether it is correct to use them, only what literary effect would someone gain by using them.

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    Is there a reason to assume that that wasn't just his style?
    – Mithical
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 8:15
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    @BESW - I wouldn't VTC. But you can write an answer with that :)
    – Mithical
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 8:31
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    If you mean to ask why Joyce preferred a punctuation standard more common in cultures outside his own, please edit your question to reflect an understanding that quotation dashes aren't his unique invention. Otherwise this reads kinda like asking why an author uses a choice of punctuation order or spaces at the end of a sentence you're unfamiliar with. Questions of punctuation alone might be better handled by English Language & Usage or English Language Learners.
    – BESW
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 8:33
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    @Chenmunka That doesn't make it on topic here. I think it probably IS, but needs clarification. At best it should probably offer some reason to think this is a weird thing which merits asking about.
    – BESW
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 9:37
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    I do not think this is a bad question. Joyce famously disliked quotation marks and intentionally spurned them. See my answer below.
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 14:38

4 Answers 4


James Joyce preferred dashes to quotation marks for aesthetic reasons. He even went so far as to call quotation marks "perverted commas".

He remarks on his dislike of quotation marks at various places in his correspondences:

I think the fewer the quotation marks the better.... The ‘ ’ are to be used only in the case of a quotation in full dress, I think, i.e., when it is used to prove or to contradict or to show &c. (Letters of James Joyce, Vol. I, p. 263)


Then Mr. Cape and his printers gave me trouble [with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man]. They set the book with perverted commas and I insisted on their removal by the sergeant-at-arms. (Letters of James Joyce, Vol. III, p. 99)

These passages are recorded here.

  • 3
    Excellent find!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 14:59
  • 21
    Worth mentioning that "perverted commas" is (I assume) a play on another common name for quotation marks, "inverted commas".
    – chepner
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 16:06

It's called "quotation dashes," or "theater style," or "the continental manner." The latter term is because it's used (among several other styles, like < > ) by many languages common in continental Europe, but it's common enough in English that you'll find it in the writings of authors as diverse as William Faulkner, Philip K. Dick, and Cormac McCarthy.

I can't find any specific claim by Joyce himself about the choice to use quotation dashes. It may have been to evoke a continental style, or to give a theatrical sense to the text (quotation dashes are similar to common dialogue punctuation conventions used by English playwrights), or to give his publishers are hard time; his works often had their punctuation standardised on the way to printing. Or maybe he just liked it better than all those inverted commas floating around. Personally I don't think he needed a reason to use quotation dashes any more than I'd need a reason to use single quotes instead of double ones or put double spaces after my sentences.

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    I have read almost everything Cormac McCarthy has written and I have to say the absence of quotes I see no upside to. In long exchanges between two people, it is unclear who is talking without very careful attention -- perhaps it could be argued that CM wants the reader to pay that close attention.
    – releseabe
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 18:15
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    "quotation dashes are similar to common dialogue punctuation conventions used by English playwrights" Can you think of some example of this?
    – typo
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 22:36

This is strictly a matter of differences in punctuation styles among writers of English from different nations. I love Joyce, and find his use of dashes for quotations economical, elegant and perfect easy to follow. I have seen old American editions of his works that tried substituting quotation marks for the dashes, and the results were hideous.

Commonwealth writers of English (i.e., from the U.K. and its former colonies) differ with American writers over two issues: whether to use single or double quotation marks and whether to include the comma (or period) inside or outside the closing quotation mark. An Australian writer I used to edit would argue endlessly with me on this question.

The American novelist James Michener preferred the British practice of using single quotes for quotations and double quotes for quotations within quotations, whereas the prevalent American practice is the opposite. My favorite American novelist, William Faulkner, seemed to loathe all punctuation, particularly commas. He would write these magnificent sequences without commas, and eschewed apostrophes altogether. When you can write like Faulkner, you get to make your own rules.


I think sound is very important to Joyce. He had a great voice, some say he rivaled the greatest baritones of his day, and was profoundly moved by music. His works open a new vista when they are read aloud. There is only one audio recording we have of Joyce's voice. He is reading from the Anna Livia Plurabelle section of Finnegans Wake and it is mesmerizing:


Joyce clearly writes and imagines his prose like a musical composer, his voice rising to crescendos and turning words into something more: an enchantment. Therefore, it would not be surprising that he would prefer the continental dash to the perverted commas and would become furious if his manuscripts were messed with by the publishers.

With Joyce, like any great master who is seeking perfection in his art, not only every word but any mark he placed upon the page represented so much more than just a symbol. I am assuming that this is what went into his thought process. The quotation mark is cumbersome, it slows the eyes just a bit when scanning the page, and affects the pace, rhythm, and cadence of the mood or manner of expression Joyce wishes to capture.

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    The answer says, "Joyce writes like a musical composer, therefore he would prefer the continental dash to the perverted commas". I don't follow this argument—how does the musical aspect of Joyce's prose imply the preference for one punctuation convention over another? I think a bit more detail would help with following this step. Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 19:30
  • I mentioned in my response the quotation mark is cumbersome, it slows the eyes just a bit when scanning the page, and affects the pace, rhythm, and cadence of the mood or manner of expression Joyce wishes to capture. This is what I meant by choosing the dash over the quotation mark. It should be explained that Joyce was trying to mimic the consciousness of modern man. Writing in stream of consciousness is an attempt to turn the reader into a participant in Joyce's imagination by mimicking how we think: our attention shifts, the external world changes based upon our internal perception.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 19:40
  • I think it is very helpful to listen to Joyce reading Finnegans Wake, which I provided the link for. I hope this helps clarify what I mean. It is the way we read the words that mattered to Joyce, not just the words.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 19:49
  • Perhaps you could edit your answer to incorporate the arguments you have made in the comments. As the answer currently stands, Gareth is correct in that the connection between the musical sensibility and the absence of quotation marks is not clear.
    – verbose
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 23:44

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