Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is group of words following quoted speech (e.g. ‘she said’), identifying who spoke and/or how they spoke. Other words for ‘said’ can indicate:

  • Volume (e.g. yelled, shouted, bellowed, screamed, whispered)
  • Tone or pitch (e.g. shrieked, groaned, squeaked)
  • Emotion (e.g. grumbled, snapped, sneered, begged)

The relation between these components of voice are also important. It could be strange, for instance, for a character to ‘sneer’ the words ‘I love you’, considering that the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love.

Considering that you can find countless verbs that will substitute for ‘said,’ if you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and make use of that?

Not necessarily. Check out strategies for using dialogue tags such as for instance said and its particular substitutes well:

1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly

The situation with dialogue tags is they draw awareness of the author’s hand. The more we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater we’re aware of the writer creating the dialogue. We come across the writer attributing who said what – it lays their hand that is guiding bare. Compare these two versions of this same conversation:

“I told you already,” I said, glaring.

“Well I was listening that is n’t was I!” he said.

“Apparently not,” he replied.

Now compare this towards the following:

I glared at him. “I told you already.”

“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!”

For a few, it’s a case of stylistic preference. Even so, it’s hard to argue that the version that is first better than the second. When you professional essay writers online look at the second, making glaring an action instead of tethering it to your dialogue gives us a stronger sense of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.

As it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ is the character speaking in the beginning, we don’t need to add ‘I said’. The strength of the exclamation mark into the character that is second reply makes any dialogue tag showing emotion (e.g. ‘he snapped’) unnecessary. Since it’s on a unique line, and responds from what the other said, we know it is an answer from context.

Similarly, within the speaker’s that is first, we don’t need a tag telling us his tone (that it’s curt, sarcastic, or hostile). The brevity, the known fact it’s only two words, conveys his tone and then we can infer the type continues to be mad.

Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of imagining and inferring. The reader extends to fill in the blank spaces, prompted more subtly because of the clues you leave (an exclamation mark or a pointed, cross phrase).

Join Now Novel’s 4-week course, just how to Write Dialogue, for detailed guidance on formatting, creating subtext and context, and more. Get detailed feedback on a final assignment.

2. Use ‘said’ sparingly, other words for said way more

The word ‘said’, like ‘asked’, gives no colour and personality to a character’s utterance. In conversation between characters, options for said can tell your reader:

  • The individual mental or emotional states associated with the conversants
  • Their education of conflict or ease when you look at the conversation
  • What the relationship is much like between characters (for instance, if one character always snaps during the other this will show that the type is dominanting as well as perhaps unkind to the other)

Listed here are dialogue words you can use rather than ‘said’, categorised because of the variety of emotion or scenario they convey:


Shouted, bellowed, yelled, snapped, cautioned, rebuked.


Consoled, comforted, reassured, admired, soothed.


Shouted, yelled, babbled, gushed, exclaimed.


Whispered, stuttered, stammered, gasped, urged, hissed, babbled, blurted.


Declared, insisted, maintained, commanded.


Sighed, murmured, gushed, laughed.


Cried, mumbled, sobbed, sighed, lamented.


Jabbed, sneered, rebuked, hissed, scolded, demanded, threatened, insinuated, spat, glowered.

Making up:

Apologised, relented, agreed, reassured, placated, assented.


Teased, joked, laughed, chuckled, chortled, sniggered, tittered, guffawed, giggled, roared.


Related, recounted, continued, emphasized, remembered, recalled, resumed, concluded.

Despite there being many other words for said, remember:

  • Too many could make your dialogue begin to feel like a compendium of emotive speech-verbs. Use colourful dialogue tags for emphasis. They’re the salt and spice in dialogue, not the whole meal
  • Use emotive dialogue tags for emphasis. As an example if everything happens to be placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here would be a good location for a shriek or a scream
  • One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that most the emotion is crammed to the words themselves additionally the dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel a little like talking heads in jars. Your characters have bodies, so be afraid to don’t make use of them. Compare these examples:

    “That’s not what you said yesterday,” she said, her voice implying she was retreating, withdrawing.

    “Well I hadn’t thought about it yet. The fact is now that I’ve had time I see that maybe it’s not planning to work out. But let’s never be hasty,” he said, clearly attempting to control her retreat, too.

    “That’s not that which you said yesterday.” She hesitated, turned and walked to the window.

    “Well I hadn’t thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The truth is now that’ I’ve had time I observe that maybe it is not likely to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached off to place a tactile hand in the small of her back.

    The dialogue is interspersed with setting in the second example. The way the characters engage with the setting (the woman turning to manage the window, as an example) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings into the first dialogue example. Yet there’s a clearer feeling of proximity and distance, of two characters dancing around each other’s words, thoughts and feelings.

    Vary the way you show who’s speaking in your dialogue. Use emotive other words for said to season characters’ conversations. Yet seasoning shouldn’t overpower substance. Utilize the content of what characters say, their movement, body language, pauses, and silences, to create deeper, more layered exchanges.

    Join Now Novel and get constructive feedback on your dialogue as you grow and improve.

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