Edits By Knight

Which Words Can be Used as Dialogue Tags?

     In my time as an editor, I’ve seen a lot of confusion about which words can be used as dialogue tags. Only a verb that describes the action of speech (said, replied, answered, etc.) can be used as a dialogue tag. Oddly enough, “speak/spoke” is not a tag!

Not Everything is a Tag

     Unlike people, not all verbs are created equal! While you have a lot of freedom when it comes to your own personal style, you’re still better off sticking to the rules on this one. Don’t worry, though: Just because you can’t use it as a tag doesn’t mean you can’t use it at all; it just shouldn’t be in the same sentence as your dialogue. You can add it as an action beat—thus removing the need for a tag in the first place.

     Here are some examples of incorrect usage I’ve seen.

Verbs That Are Often Mistaken for Dialogue Tags—but Aren't:

  • spoke/described – I know, I know, it’s weird… but trust me on this one.
  • laughed/giggled – I don’t know about you, but I can’t laugh and talk at the same time.
  • choked – Again, you can’t do both!

Facial Expressions That Are Often Misused as Dialogue Tags:

While these are verbs, they do not describe the act of speech and should not be used as tags. They make good action beats, though!

  • smirked (self-satisfied smile)
  • sneered (curled lip, indicates contempt)
  • leered (lecherous/lewd look)
  • gaped (mouth hanging open)

     Be sure to check out the rest of the basics of using dialogue tags, and visit visit my blog’s main page to find more tips and tricks for editors, writers, and freelancers!

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.