When I was in elementary school, my teachers told us students repeatedly to avoid the word said and gave us this sheet. I’ve kept it all these years.
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with said, and I don’t understand why so many people are against it. Said is a dialogue tag, and dialogue tags are not meant to be fancy. Their purpose is to show which character is speaking.
Looking over this sheet, I notice so many of these words are wrong. I can’t believe my teachers gave us this. First, many of these words are not dialogue tags.
Here’s a short list of some of them:
These are NOT dialogue tags. Dialogue tags involve words coming out of the character’s mouth; they’re not expressions, gestures, noises (such as laughing, coughing, sighing, etc), or movements. Those are ACTION TAGS.
You’re not talking when you’re choking. You’re not talking when you’re groaning. And you definitely are not talking when you’re laughing. Let’s admit it, we have all had that experience when we tried telling a friend a story but ended up laughing ourselves silly.
Action tags have different punctuation than dialogue tags. Let’s look at examples:
“I love my dog,” she laughed. (Wrong!)
“I love my dog!” she laughed. (Still wrong!)
She laughed, “I love my dog!” (That’s wrong too!)
“I love my dog.” She laughed. (CORRECT!)
She laughed. “I love my dog!” (ALSO CORRECT!)
For action tags, you can’t use a comma. You must use a period. Then you capitalize the beginning of your action tag like starting a new sentence.
The second problem with the sheet is there are many words that can cause redundancies. Take a look at these examples so you can understand what I mean:
“Thank you for helping me,” Julia thanked. (REDUNDANT!)
“Thank you for helping me,” Julia said. (Acceptable)
“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks,” Bill declined. (REDUNDANT!)
“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks, “Bill said. (Acceptable)
“I agree!” John agreed. (REDUNDANT!)
He nodded. “I agree!” John agreed. (SUPER REDUNDANT!)
“I agree!” John said. (Acceptable)
What is the easiest way to avoid these redundancies? Use the word said. There is nothing wrong with it. However, you may replace it when you want the dialogue tag to show tone, and you should definitely change it if you’re adding adverbs to the word said.
“Go away!” I said angrily.
“Go away!” I shouted.
“We need to be quiet,” she said quietly.
“We need to be quiet,” she whispered.