Since 1994, short stories by AJ Barnett have appeared in magazines, summer specials, international competitions, and available on Kindle.
Is it your dream, your fantasy to write a bestseller? Do you have a book in your head, but the word "said" keeps getting in the way? If we write, then somewhere along the line we'll run into the word "said," one of the most common dialogue tags. But what is a dialogue tag, you ask?
What Is a Dialogue Tag?
In writing, a dialogue tag is a group of words that follow a line of speech. They provide information about the words between the beginning and end quotation marks such as
- Who is speaking (i.e. he, she, they, Danny, Lucy)
- Volume (i.e. shouted, yelled, whispered)
- Tone (i.e. moaned, babbled, howled)
By using dialogue tags, writers are able to explain to readers the way in which their characters are speaking and the emotions that should be inferred from the inflection of their words.
Other Words for "Said" by Emotion
Repeating "he said, she said," can get annoying, but is it smart to use a different verb? There are abundant words to use instead, yet purists believe you're probably best not using them, since readers pay such little attention to "said" it effectively becomes invisible.
A good practice to follow is that when it’s understandable who is speaking the line of dialogue, you can remove the verb completely. It's surprising how much more professional your work will look if you do. In fact, let's make a rule: if it's obvious who's speaking, don't use anything.
You should only substitute "said" if the line of dialogue needs accentuation or verbalization to convey the way the words are expressed. Gorging your story with alternative words for "said" makes your work look amateurish, so be sure to se alternatives with moderation.
But sometimes you need to indicate who's speaking, and sometimes the word "said" doesn't quite do the job. That being said, if you’re struggling to find that elusive and perfect substitute, here’s a list of words (categorized by emotion) that might help.
Accepted, acknowledged, admitted, affirmed, agreed, assumed, conferred, confessed, confirmed, justified, settled, understood, undertook, verified.
Accused, barked, bellowed, bossed, carped, censured, condemned, criticized, demanded, fumed, gawped, glowered, growled, grumbled, hissed ordered, raged, remonstrated, reprimanded, retorted, scoffed, scolded, seethed, snapped, snarled, ticked off, told off, upbraided.
Contemplated, mused, pondered.
Addressed, advertised, articulated, bragged, commanded, confided, decided, dictated, ended, exacted, finished, informed, made known, maintained, necessitated, pointed out, promised, reassured, remarked, repeated, reported, specified, stated, told.
Attracted, requested, wanted.
Babbled, beamed, blurted, broadcasted, burst, cheered, chortled, chuckled, cried out, crooned, crowed, declared, emitted, exclaimed, giggled, hollered, howled, interjected, jabbered, laughed, praised, preached, presented, proclaimed, professed, promulgated, quaked, ranted, rejoiced, roared, screamed, shouted, shrieked, swore, thundered, trilled, trumpeted, vociferated, wailed, yawped, yelled, yelped, yowled.
Cautioned, shuddered, trembled, warned.
Comforted, consoled, empathized, invited, offered, proffered, released, volunteered.
Advised, alleged, appealed, asserted, assured, avered, avowed, beckoned, begged, beseeched, cajoled, claimed, conceded, concluded, concurred, contended, defended, disposed, encouraged, entreated, held, hinted, implied, implored, importuned, inclined, indicated, insisted, pleaded, postulated, premised, presupposed, protested, stressed, suggested, touted, urged, vouched for, wheedled.
Chimed in, circulated, disseminated, distributed, expressed, grinned, made public, passed on, publicized, published, put forth, put out, quipped, quizzed, quoted, reckoned that, required, requisitioned, taunted, teased.
Exposed, imitated, joked, leered, lied, mimicked, mocked, provoked.
Agonized, bawled, blubbered, grieved, groaned, lamented, mewled, mourned, puled, sobbed, wept.
Announced, answered, began, called, commented, continued, denoted, disclosed, divulged, explained, imparted, noted, observed, proposed, rejoined, replied, revealed, shared, solicited, sought, testified, transferred, transmitted, went on.
Asked, doubted, faltered, fretted, guessed, hesitated, hypothesized, inquired, lilted, quavered, queried, questioned, shrugged, speculated, stammered, stuttered, supposed, trailed off, wondered.
Words That Indicate Sound
Breathed, choked, croaked, drawled, echoed, grunted, keened, moaned, mumbled, murmured, panted, sang, sniffled, sniveled, snorted, spluttered, squeaked, uttered, voiced, whimpered, whined, whispered.
Other Words for "Asked"
When writing an inquisitive character, sometimes the standard "asked" can become a bit stale. Try using these alternatives when you want to add some variety to your dialogue.
Other Words for "Stated"
Instead of repeatedly using stated to express the way in which a character delivers their words, try using one of these more descriptive alternatives.
Adverbs and Phrases to Explain How Something Was Said
Okay, so despite the warning, you’ve decided you really need to use one of the words above for "said." In order to make your writing absolutely zing, you might want to go whole hog and add an adverb or a phrase to convey or emphasize exactly how the line of dialogue was said.
An adverb is a word ending in -ly and modifies a verb.
The way it works is you choose whichever word for "said" you fancy from the list above, then add a adverb or phrase after it from the list below. For example, "She promised, with a controlled smile," or "He remarked, with a gloomy sigh." But do not overdo it. Be very careful not to end up sounding amateurish.
List of Adverbs for Dialogue
- Abruptly, Absently, Acidly, Angrily, Apologetically, Approvingly, Artfully
- Calmly, Caustically, Cheerfully, Complacently, Crossly
- Depressingly, Dryly
- Earnestly, Enthusiastically
- Gently, Gruffly
- Happily, Hotly
- Impatiently, Indulgently, Informed sassily, Innocently, Inquired doubtfully, Irritably
- Loftily, Loudly
- Mentally shrugged
- Naturally, Nodded agreeably, Not wanting to sound pushy, Noncommittally
- Offhandedly, Optimistically
- Pleasantly, Politely, Politely smooth, Promised in a motherly/fatherly way, Prompted gently Promptly,
- Reflectively, Roughly
- Sadly, Sympathetically, Sarcastically, Sincerely, Smiled faintly, Smugly, Soberly, Softly, Sparingly, Sternly,
- Tartly, Tautly, Teased softly, Tightly, Truthfully, Thoughtfully,
- Uncertainly, Unexpectedly, Urgently
- Went on loyally, Wilfully misunderstood, Without sounding unduly curious, Wryly
List of Phrases for Dialogue
"She said in a..."
Casual tone, chiding tone, courteous manner, curious tone, dry tone, flirtatious way, level tone, level way, perpetually tired voice, rasping tone, small panicky voice, soothing tone, voice soft with affection.
"She said with a..."
Controlled smile, fond look, gloomy sigh, note of relief, sad grimace, sad smile, sense of guilt, sigh of irritation, burgeoning excitement.
"She said with..."
Conviction, determination, fire, firm persistence, gentle remonstrance, graceful simplicity, mock astonishment, pleasure, quiet empathy, simple directness.
Other Phrases to Modify "Said"
- After a moment's reflection
- False cheerfulness
- Friendly fashion
- In quiet amazement
- Made the effort to sound reassuring
- Meaning the words more seriously than they sounded
- Sounded slightly brittle
Stephen King on Adverbs for Dialogue Attribution
Below is Stephen King's take on the use of adverbs. His advice is to use adverbs very conservatively in order to keep the integrity of your writing intact.
"Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.
I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions ... and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:
‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.
In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:
‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.
The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately."
— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft
How to Show Emotion Through Actions Instead of Adverbs
Since the use of adverbs can often make a writer look amateurish, many choose to use actions instead of adverbs to express emotion. Take, for example, the scenario below, in which a man is feeling frustrated and angry upon learning that his girlfriend has been unfaithful. In the first example, adverbs are used. In the second, actions.
"Where were you all night?" he asked.
"I was with someone else," she mumbled nervously.
"Someone else?" he boomed violently. "Someone else?"
"Where were you all night?" he asked.
"I was with someone else," she replied with her eyes downcast. She was fiddling with her fingernails.
"Someone else?" he said, slamming the table with his fist. "Someone else?"
It's easy to see that in most exchanges of dialogue, less is more. Let your reader imagine the actions the characters are making and infer the emotions those actions suggest, rather than telling them the emotion outright.
© 2009 ajbarnett
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Your all Gay Nerds and you know it
Nate on February 26, 2020:
I'd add 'dramatically'.
wasifa on February 10, 2020:
this helped soo much (in truth i am not very good at dialogue)
Ani on February 08, 2020:
I don't want to use said in my sentence but I can't think of any other words to replace it. Can you help?
Here's my sentence, "Oh! Yes, your lipstick," she said hurriedly. I don't want to use said but do I have a choice?
No need on February 04, 2020:
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No name on January 15, 2020:
This has been very helpful.
poop you on January 13, 2020:
what about said
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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO on December 17, 2019:
what about exhaustion
you forgot that
The ancient Greek fan on December 11, 2019:
very helpful, My teachers are telling me that they are impressed with my work because of my grammar.
pasta on December 07, 2019:
I would add mildly to the list
The man with a plan on December 05, 2019:
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potatolover on November 25, 2019:
very useful cause teacher said NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO USE SAID!!!!!!!!! in those exact words
Plip plop on November 24, 2019:
said is a good word
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REALLY HELPED MY NARRATIVE FALL INTO PLACE AT EVERY SINGLE POINT! #THx
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yes it good.
Jeff on November 15, 2019:
this sight has helped me choose words so I can create my book
an idiot on November 15, 2019:
very cool and useful I used a lot of them in a story for class
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What's a name??? on November 14, 2019:
This was super helpful. I'm in the middle of writing a book and this improves my writing.
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potato on June 16, 2019:
this is really helpful in class no one and I mean no one is allowed to use the word SAID
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Jacob H on June 12, 2019:
Maybe you could put suggested
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Alyssa Jade Gilliam on June 07, 2019:
Very helpful, but the layout is a bit complicated :) definitely using again though!
Grammar Grandma on June 05, 2019:
There needs to be a comma between hissed and ordered in the "Anger" section. You're welcome!
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James on May 22, 2019:
You just need a list of words that replace said.
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Yoda-Wise One on May 15, 2019:
Impressed is me.
:0 on May 14, 2019:
*mind has exploded*
Julia on May 12, 2019:
My teacher is not allowing the class to use 'dead words' such as said, so I found this very helpful
no name on May 06, 2019:
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Crystal on April 29, 2019:
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Brooke Owens on April 27, 2019:
Thank you soooo much! This was so helpfull. See, when I write I always seem to use the same word, like "said" and my writings were just getting boring. This helped me figure out other words to use instead of ones I use all the time. Thank you so, so, much!
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Amazing website. I'm working on a fanfiction; using this website is EXTREMELY helpful.
Weslie on April 23, 2019:
What about people that are sly? Creepy? Up to something?
Person on April 23, 2019:
I thought this was great and helped me a lot:)
Nat on April 22, 2019:
This is so helfpull for writing books!
gremlyn1 on April 21, 2019:
I am trying to write a book and this website helps a lot with dialog! Thank you soooooo (infinity o's) much!
confused on April 18, 2019:
I found this website a little confusing though it still helped me once I figured it out.
You don't need to know my name. on April 16, 2019:
This is so helpful for my writing. Even though im very good at writing. I got the strangest grade ever for this test.......... i got an 12/10 like OMG
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120 on April 15, 2019:
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Thank you this has helped me through my writing so much.
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Well a major cheat sheet and because of this i got a free a in english
brad on April 05, 2019:
you helped with a said challenge thanx for the cheat sheet dude
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there is so many, I can't pick one!
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this is good stuff mr or ms author person
Kind-sir on March 31, 2019:
Many thanks... Just glanced through, and I must say, not only did you have a comprehensive list of words, you also group them so well that even I was impressed.
I knew it after all that I came to the right place... Now I can completely edit my light novel effortlessly.
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awesome! You helped me with my stories I'm making!
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I'm currently writing a novel and everytime i sit down to write this is one of the tabs i reliably always have open. This list is so amazingly helpful
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Its very helpful for writing books.etc, and helped me a lot
I highly recommend this app
boi on March 11, 2019:
thx soooooo much this will help me tell my report.
jennifer on March 07, 2019:
this was so helpful for my school essay!! :)
jeff on March 07, 2019:
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A fangurl on March 05, 2019:
This helps so much! (I may or may not be writing a fanfic.)
HubPages on February 26, 2019:
This was so so so vary helpful, I don't even think I could say thank you enough. It just WOWed me, because of all the absolutely wonderful words. I couldn't believe when my Teacher said she used a (this one, to be specific) website for herself too, but now I do :)
Human Being on February 15, 2019:
This was extremely helpful for the story I'm writing and I thank you for organizing the website the way you did.
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??? on February 14, 2019:
I love writing but I find it hard to express what I mean while not using 'said'. his helped so much!
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Willow on January 23, 2019:
"Very helpful, with a great array of words. I wish other websites organised their words like this!" She joyfully reported. "Beats scrolling down a long list for ages, desperately searching for the right word."
"Are you sure?" Her friend queried. "I prefer just using the word 'said'."
"Yeah, well that's why you got D in writing you numbskull." She retorted.
A young writer on January 18, 2019:
I'm fifteen and am attempting to write my own novel. This helped immensely.
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