Punctuation Commands for Dictation in Voice to Text for Android

Many attorneys like to dictate letters or messages using their Android device. I use voice to text quite often to compose text messages, and when combined with Google Now’s voice commands, your phone becomes a handy personal assistant. Of course, I’ve talked about making your own dictation system with Google Drive and your Android Device. But Christian Williams wonders the following:

I wonder what punctuation can be used, if there is a command for new line or paragraph breaks.

Unfortunately Christian, the short answer is that there aren’t any paragraph breaks in Android’s punctuation commands. Yes, you can use the “new line” or “new paragraph” punctuation commands. but unlike Dragon Naturally Speaking or other true text to speech programs, Android’s speech to text engine isn’t that good. Well, it’s good, but when we talk about dictation, Android sucks. Google is really improving Android dictation capabilities, and while you’re not going to experience Dragon-like dictation, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

STT types what you tell it to

Android’s speech to text engine is quite literal. That means, when you say, “new paragraph,” the STT engine translates and types, “new paragraph.”

Android Dictation Commands

This “stupidity” happens for essentially two reasons:

  1. STT isn’t really designed for dictation (at this time); and
  2. Google’s interested in conversational context for its STT engine.

STT design

In the grand world of speech to text, dictation — at least as attorney’s think of dictation — takes a very distant third fourth fiftieth one-hundreth place. The reality is that most Android consumers will never use their Android devices with the intent of dictating long, legalese-filled, memos and diatribes. The true purpose, at least in the STT world according to Google, is to translate and send short bursts of text (think text messages or Twitter updates — 140 characters), rather than lengthier discourses.

When STT accomplishes that goal, 95% or more of users are happy.

The conversation is the important factor

Those happy users, sending short bursts of messages, is what Google’s trying to capture. Google’s Hummingbird search update is all about conversational searches rather than Boolean-like queries. So, similarly, STT tries to capture the same elements.

But if you remember conversational, it’s easier to get engaged with STT.

What commands work?

Ultimately, figuring out what commands work, and when, will drive you bat crazy. Here’s a list of usable commands to make STT work a little better. Hopefully, Google will improve and incorporate more dictation commands, such as punctuation.

  • Period = period (.)
  • Comma = comma (,)
  • Question mark = question mark (?)
  • Exclamation or exclamation point = exclamation point (!)
  • Enter or new line = moves to a new line
  • New paragraph = new paragraph

Making it all work together

I’ve found that the best way to get dictation working is to have a continual conversation with your device. This means that if you pause for long periods of time, usually 2 or more seconds, STT won’t connect your command as a command. This is especially true for commands like “new paragraph” and “new line” or “enter.”

I find that if you pause only slightly, STT will spell out “enter,” rather than execute the command. It’s a really finicky function, but if you do it right dictation works well.

But it’s not Dragon Naturally Speaking

If’ you’re dead-set on having the Dragon experience, Android’s STT will disappoint. But, if you recognize Android’s dictation for what it is, then you’ll probably be satisfied with what you’re getting.

If you know of more commands that work, let me know so we can help everyone.

63 Responses to Punctuation Commands for Dictation in Voice to Text for Android

  1. It would be another step less convenient, but you could later do a search and replace from your computer for the symbol you want to enter, for instance, replace “new paragraph” in your text with “^p^p” (if using MS Word). Or use a word that you would never use in your legalese text, maybe “wombat”!

    • On Android, saying “new line” went to the next line properly and “new paragraph” skipped a blank line properly as long as you say “new line” or “new paragraph” QUICKLY after “period”, “comma”, “question mark” or “exclamation point”.
      Saying it after “colon” or “semicolon” did not work, nor did saying it without one of the aforementioned preceding punctuation marks.

  2. When I read that “Smiley Face” and “Sad Face” worked I thought I’d try some others.

    I found that “Tongue Face” also works, but the first time I tried it, Google returned “c**t face” complete with the asterisks – lol.

  3. how about capital letters?or spaces between sentences?I am dictating this as an example.notice the sentences do not start with capital letters.also there are no spaces between the sentences.

    • I think there’s an issue with your settings. I’m dictating this from my phone and it’s working perfectly.it would help if we knew what type of phone and Android version you’re running.

  4. Thanks for responding, Jeffrey. I appreciate you and your website.

    Both my phone and tablet do the same thing. The phone is an HTC PG86100. It’s the 3D camera phone which has Android version 2.3.4 and kernel Yes, it is getting old. :-)

    The tablet is an Asus ME173X with Android version 4.2.1 and kernel 3.4.5.

    I am not sure how to change those settings, but will look into it. Thanks again for your time.

  5. It says I am using the Google Text-to-speech engine. It is using the Android Keyboard for key input. When typing, it does correct capitalization and such.

  6. how do input the work “period”? I have tried repeating it and putting it into different contexts and delays. I just get the punctuation mark.

  7. You don’t have to be a lawyer to need Google’s speech to text to add punctuation. Think highly of yourself? I’m not good enough for you when I need to send a simple two sentence text response to a colleague? It’s quite annoying that Google can’t integrate a way to insert punctuation…. whether through user audible input or automatically through the program itself.

    • It’s not an arrogant opinion, but rather reality. Lawyers want different things from dictation than the general public. Android speech to text works well most of the time. Of course, everyone wants better punctuation and grammar abilities, but STT isn’t at that point.

      • But the punctuation is flawless. And I have a southern accent. I can go on and on dictating and never have to touch my phone. Not sure what version of everything you are using or if your phone and internet are fast enough nut mine works perfectly.

        • I’m pretty sure I’m running Android L. I’m not disagreeing. I use STT more than I actually type. Sometimes I look like a weirdo walking down the street dictating. The problem is, at least for attorneys, the dictation will only get them 90% of the way. Attorneys and doctors look for the ability to perform commands, too.

  8. I’m typing this with my speech to text right now as I talk. I’m just doing this to prove my point. All you have to do is say a sentence. When you finish your sentence be sure to very quickly say period and then go ahead and start your next sentence. If you wait too long it will just spell period.

    Galaxy S3 Snapdragon 4.1.2

  9. Period = period (.)
    Comma = comma (,)
    Question mark = question mark (?)
    Exclamation or exclamation point or exclamation mark = exclamation point (!)
    Enter or new line = moves to a new line
    New paragraph = new paragraph
    hyphen = hyphen (-)
    sad face, smiley face :-( :-)
    colon (works sporadically) = colon (:)

    Must haves – anyone know how to do:
    quote unquoted –
    left parentheses right parentheses

    it would be nice to have
    @ sign

  10. Hi!
    I’m undecided between an iPad and a Samsung Tablet and dictation is the deciding factor for me. I need to dictate in Spanish and punctuation marks are quite important for what I need. I tried both tablets at the store and both recognize SPanish quite well, but the iPad does mark periods, etc quite easly whereas I could not figure out the Samsung (which I would otherwise prefer to buy).

    Any advice or experience with punctuation in Spanish voice to text?


  11. How do you dictate a space? After I end a sentence with a period I often stop, then want to start a new sentence, but it leaves NO space between the period and the start of the new sentence. If I say ‘space’ it just types the word ‘space’. Frustrating, and I can’t find any info /help on this after dozens of internet searches. Can’t believe I’m the only one needing to type a space…

  12. this article: “Android’s speech to text engine isn’t that good.” and “…takes a very distant third fourth fiftieth one-hundreth place.” – Jeff Taylor (November 18, 2013)

    referenced article (making your own dictation system):”However, Android does have one of the best speech to text engines on the planet, and certainly the best engine on any mobile device. Android’s excellent speech engine…” – Jeff Taylor (May 22, 2013)


  13. Hi Jeff, thanks for all you contributions. i have 2 questions: 1. How do i make STT type a capital letter at the start of someone’s name? And, question 2: how do i make it type a capital i instead of a small i when i want to use the word “I”?


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Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life, or vice versa. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.