Say It Ain’t So! Try These 10 Words Instead Of “Said”

Dialogue is an integral part of almost every form of writing. Through dialogue, readers can get information, understand relationships between characters, and know what different people in their stories are thinking and feeling. Said is the most common way to tag dialogue in writing, but it’s not the only option when you’re quoting people in your work.

Said is a type of dialogue tag. These tags can be used before, after, or in the middle of dialogue to let the reader know that someone is speaking or being quoted. In journalism, the standard is to always use said when tagging dialogue; however, creative writers may need more variety to convey what characters are thinking and feeling in parts of their stories.

As with most things in writing, there is some debate about whether or not creative writers should deviate from said. Some writers think using different kinds of dialogue tags can be distracting, while others use these tags as a way to add depth to their writing. In his book On Writing, author Stephen King writes, “The best form of dialogue attribution is said.”

But even Stephen King doesn’t totally avoid creative dialogue tags. “When I do it, it’s usually for the same reason any writer does it: because I am afraid the reader won’t understand me if I don’t,” he writes. If you, like King, occasionally find yourself searching for a better word for said that helps your readers get even deeper into your work, here are some other good options.

remark

To remark is to “say casually, as in making a comment.” It’s used in instances where characters are making casual conversation or saying things that are not terribly important to them, though what they’re saying is still necessary to the story or important to the other characters around them.

Like said, it’s a simple tag that doesn’t distract from the rest of your writing, but it’s useful because it helps signify the type of conversation taking place. In fiction writing, it might look like this:

 

  • “It’s cool out here,” he remarked as they stepped outside. “There must be a storm coming.”

divulge

Is your character a gossip? Are they keeping a secret? If so, divulge might be the dialogue tag for you. Typically, when a character chooses to divulge something, they are choosing “to disclose or reveal something private, secret, or previously unknown.” For example:

 

  • “You know, that’s not Bill’s real hair,” his wife divulged between sips of wine.

While divulge isn’t a dialogue tag you’d use for just any line of dialogue, it is great for those instances when a shady character is spilling the beans or when someone lets a major secret slip.

bark

When someone in a piece of writing is barking commands, we typically know that person is under stress, in danger, or not very nice. That’s because bark is such handy shorthand for a range of distressing emotions. A dog’s bark is shrill and alarming. Likewise, when a person barks, it means “to speak or cry out sharply or gruffly.”

Take a look at how the following dialogue changes when you swap in bark instead of said:

 

  • “I’d like the check now,” he said to the waiter.
  • “I’d like the check now,” he barked at the waiter.

See the difference?

 

No matter how you say it, don't dumb down your language by using the word dumb. Try these alternatives instead.

hiss

What kind of creature hisses? Typically, an unhappy one. A hiss is used “to express disapproval or contempt.” It’s what a snake does when they want you to back off. Coincidentally, it can be used in similar ways in your writing. Take a look:

 

  • “I need more batteries,” she hissed.

Using the word hiss conveys alarm, distress, and the fact that this character just isn’t getting what they want. Like bark, it's a good dialogue tag to sprinkle in when you need to convey abrupt strong emotions.

gush

Picture this: your character is raving about their first date. They just met their dream partner, and they can’t stop gushing over how wonderful this person is. Gush does a lot of the heavy lifting there, right?

To gush means “to express oneself extravagantly or emotionally; talk effusively,” and it’s useful for those moments when your character is excited, overjoyed, or otherwise just can’t contain their emotions. Let’s look at an example:

 

  • “She has every Taylor Swift album on vinyl, and she even had backstage passes to her last concert,” he gushed. “She might be an even bigger super fan than I am!”

growl

Let’s be real. Sometimes people don’t just say things, they growl them. Growl means “to utter a deep guttural sound of anger or hostility.” People may growl in frustration, arousal, contempt, or pain. And, while you certainly don’t want every person in your writing walking around growling at each other, the word growl is helpful to show that someone’s demeanor has changed in a dramatic way. Take a look:

 

  • “No,” she growled, her eyes clouded with rage. “You’ll never have the chance to hurt me again.”

whimper

When someone is sad, heartbroken, defeated, or in pain, whimper is one way to show it. Whimper means “to cry with low, plaintive, broken sounds.” It’s the word you can use to express your character’s innermost turmoil as they go through the darkest part of your story, or the one you might pull out after a particularly heart-wrenching death or disaster.

Don’t buy it? Maybe you need to see it in action:

 

  • “It will never be the same again,” he whimpered, pulling his knees to his chest. “It’s all over now.”

Someone pass the tissues.

crow

When you see the word crow in dialogue, you can almost picture Peter Pan and his lost boys boasting after a narrow victory over the dastardly Captain Hook. Crow means “to gloat, boast, or exult,” and it’s often used in those moments when someone is celebrating a victory, bragging about a win, or lording their success over a lesser rival. For example:

 

  • “That’s right,” she crowed as her right foot crossed home plate. “You can’t stop the unbeatable Hawks!”

Whether or not the character is brought down by their own hubris after these bold declarations is up to you.

 

Sometimes you just don't know how to express yourself. Thankfully we've collected plenty of ways for you to say "I don't know."

squeak

In a story, someone strong might roar and thunder their dialogue. A meek or weaker character might opt to squeak. A squeak is a weak sound associated with small creatures like mice.

While your character likely doesn’t run around making actually imperceptible squeaking sounds like a rodent, allowing them to squeak their dialogue easily implies that they’re quiet, timid, and possibly afraid of what they’re saying or the person they’re speaking to. See what impression you get of the character in the following example:

 

  • “Oh, it’s no bother,” she squeaked when I offered to flag down the waiter for her. “I can just eat it cold.”

heckle

No one likes to be heckled, and that’s why heckle is such a useful dialogue tag. To heckle someone means “to harass (a public speaker, performer, etc.) with impertinent questions, gibes, or the like; badger.”

Most of us know exactly what heckling sounds like, and it’s easy for us to imagine the malice behind it and how uncomfortable it must feel to be on the other side of it. Consider what you think about the two characters in the following scene:

 

  • “Look out, everybody! It’s Shakespeare,” he heckled as Matilda read her poem aloud.

Using heckle is an effortless way to infuse a scene with discomfort and show readers who to root for.

Check out our word list

Looking for an easy way to save these dialogue tags to use while you’re working on your next project? You’re in luck. We’ve built a convenient word list to help you keep the terms handy, check your spelling, and quiz yourself on how to use each term correctly. Review them with our digital flash cards and save the list to add to your writing resources. Finding the right word has never been easier.

Make sure you know exactly how to use these words with a quiz to challenge your "speaking" skills!