491 Words to use Instead of Said. Sorted and Ranked.

Dialogue attribution pins a quote to a character. The most common, and best word, to use is said. With said, in the ranked list below, are an additional 491 words to use.

All you need to know is: Said, Asked, Replied, Yelled, Whispered.

With Said being the king of dialogue attribution.

I’m obsessed with verbs. Years ago I loved abusing verbs to carry dialogue.

No longer!

Here are 492 verbs you need in tiered ranks. The three columns are manner, rhetoric, and emotion.

  • Manner is how the dialogue sounds.
  • Rhetoric indicates the function of the dialogue in conversation.
  • Emotion has verbs that describe the character emotions.

God Tier — Use 90% of the time.

MannerRhetoricEmotion
SaidAsked
Use Said way more than Asked.

Great Tier — Use 7% of the time.

MannerRhetoricEmotion
WhisperedRepliedCried
ShoutedAddedJeered
MutteredBeganBlurted
SangExplained

Fine Tier — Use 2% of the time.

MannerRhetoricEmotion
YelledBossedScreamed
CalledRecitedJoked
PuledLiedWailed
SlurredQueriedBawled
MimickedToldScolded
SquealedRemarkedVowed
HolleredArguedImplored
PrattledInterruptedCajoled
SplutteredTriedBegged
MumbledRequestedFumed
LispedAssentedTaunted
MewedAcceptedRetorted
RoaredReadRanted
CackledQuotedRaged
ChantedReckonedInsisted
StammeredRecountedSassed
BanteredRemindedCoaxed
BoomedOpinedDenied
CroakedCoachedExulted
BarkedExpressedBewailed
HissedGuessedGushed
HuffedDivulgedWhined (Whinged)
SqueakedAdmittedSobbed
BitConfidedSnapped
SpatDisclosedBlasted
YelpedDictatedWept
ShriekedRespondedUpbraided
DrawledInsistedPled
HowledNotifiedEntreated
GrowledPressedSniveled
GroanedMentionedTeased
PipedInstructedGagged
ScreechedDescribedThreatened
ShrilledDemurredWarned
ThunderedPuzzledScoffed
BabbledReportedChided
PurredSurmisedBickered
HummedNotedBoasted
EchoedRejoinedLaughed
PantedObjectedUrged
HeavedAdvisedCussed
LeeredHintedCursed
IntonedProposedChallenged
PeepedRecalledPrayed
QuippedWheedledPleaded
MoanedToastedGrumbled
BlubberedCommandedTempted
ChattedInquiredDared
ChatteredWonderedSwooned
RaspedInformedMocked
TrilledDeclaredShot
StutteredSpokeCooed
PromptedWhimpered
SuggestedCautioned
ClaimedGibed
Pointed outMarveled
ReassuredWhooped
ReasonedPraised
CounteredRejoiced
AppealedRidiculed
WishedMused
Went onChimed
ContinuedProtested
RipostedRibbed
CorrectedBurst
CommentedAttested
ClarifiedCrowed
CounseledFlattered
RidiculedProfessed
Concurred
Disputed
Provoked

(Barely) OK Tier — Use 1% of the time.

MannerRhetoricEmotion
YowledQuestionedCountermanded
ChokedAnsweredApologized
RumbledLecturedConfessed
QuakedObservedGriped
SniffedConfirmedSnobbed
Spelled (Out)AllowedSimpered
EnunciatedBetJested
GaspedRememberedFlirted
MurmuredVolunteeredExaggerated
ChewedWelcomedSnarled
WheezedAllegedSwore
YawnedTestedBeseeched
LiltedWent onExploded
GurgledAdvertisedOrdered
ArticulatedAddressedStormed
ExclaimedEstimatedDenounced
TwitteredExactedCondemned
UtteredPostulatedBadgered
ProclaimedIntimatedOogled
BellowedImportunedEgged on
SibilatedBroadcastedAssured
StatedCertifiedKeened
JoshedDeliveredScrutinized
GuffawedDenotedMarvelled
GiggledDisruptedWooed
ChortledDisseminatedLamented
AnnouncedDistributedDemanded
BreathedIndicatedReflected
GruntedPremisedCrapped
SighedPresentedTrailed
BlatheredPresupposedEmpathized
IntonatedGreetedContemplated
CaterwauledProbedContended
QuaveredProfferedGrimaced
PronouncedPromulgatedSmirked
ChitteredPublicizedGrinned
CoughedReleasedSmiled
CluckedReprimandedNodded
FalteredSearchedScowled
YakkedSharedCringed
YappedSoughtCowered
RambledSpecifiedBeamed
JabberedVouchedComplemented
NatteredTransferredCongratulated
Rattled onTransmittedCheered
Harped onSanctionedApproved
Nattered onVenturedWorried
DribbledOfferedVacillated
BurbledQuizzedSeethed
ChirpedPut inAvowed
ChirrupedThought out loudAsserted
ChuckledImpliedMourned
DeadpannedMotionedGloated
BleatedImpartedTattled
ElocutedConversedFretted
BandiedContributedComplained
WarbledSpeculatedEncouraged
BlusteredHypothesizedChastised
SneezedMaintainedBragged
SnortedAbnegatedNeedled
VoicedDefendedProdded
MouthedAffirmedRetaliated
SputteredTheorizedGroused
SniffledTestifiedForgave
ChorusedRestatedBubbled
GawpedPonderedShuddered
PepperedNoddedAccused
EffusedAcquiescedRefused
StressedFinishedAvered
NaggedPromisedAgonized
ImitatedRevealedAffirmed
SnickeredRepeatedComforted
StartedThanked
PersistedReckoned
AgreedCarped
DisagreedShivered
ConcludedInsulted
DecidedGoaded
InterjectedPestered
DebatedGrieved
DirectedConsoled
Verified
Reminisced
Insinuated
Deliberated
Related
Deflected
Conceded
Reiterated

Worst Tier — Don’t use.

MannerRhetoricEmotion
StumbledEndedSneered
ResoundedAlliteratedSulked
RhymedThought (Yes, I found this recommended.)Undertook
TrembledCensuredShrugged
GulpedHeldForetold
DrippedNecessitatedDoubted
OozedPointedTormented
HesitatedPublishedGrizzled
MonotonedRequiredRemonstrated
VociferatedRequisitionedSympathized
EmphasizedCommunicatedExasperated
AcknowledgedInclined
ConvincedDisposed
NegatedSpilled
Assessed
Considered

Some reflections on using this list

  1. Overall, Manner is better than Emotion which is better than Rhetoric.
  2. Less is more. Dialogue attribution should be used when the speaker is unclear, there is a change in dynamic, and there is irony between what is said and how.
  3. Don’t you dare use a verb that isn’t on this list, the worst tier is bad enough as it is. I don’t want to go about adding more because you want to use the adjective grizzled as a attribution verb. DEAR GOD. If you can’t find a verb that isn’t on this list and someone, anyone recommended you to use it, they are wrong.
  4. All the verbs I have found in the wild or were recommended on internet lists. The absurdity of many verbs are the fault of click-baity writers. None of the verbs in Worst Tier are bad. They must not be used for dialogue attribution. They are better literally anywhere else. The fact some yahoos recommend those words grinds my gears.
  5. Within reason, each word could easily fit into two or three columns. This is a principled rank and order. With all creative pursuits you got to do your own thing. Trust your own voice. =))

The reason why such garbage words are recommended online is because finding a new verb for dialogue attribution is a middle school assignment. The point of the assignment is to learn new words. Not write good prose. Other reasons include building a large list to seem smart.

When in doubt use said. Whoever said use something else instead of said should be dead.

That’s all.

Photo Credit: John Evjen

Dialogue Attribution: The Basics

Dialogue Attribution answers the question, ‘Who Said That?’

Dialogue is often necessary for compelling characters. A character’s unique voice carries the narrative and endears the audience to your story. However, many writers do not craft their dialogue well. Readers are often left wondering about who is speaking, how, and to whom.

Attribution of dialogue is when the author tells the reader who said a quote.

“I’m going to get a coffee, with nineteen shots of espresso.” James said.
Someone, please help James.

We know that James said this quote of dialogue; the narrator told us. Complications occur if the narrator is untrustworthy or shackled to a limited perspective.

Trustworthy or not, the dialogue attribution’s style creates a poetic quality. This poetry is vital for the rhythm of the piece and clarity of the narrative.

In this post I will describe my personal journey of dialogue attribution.

I started with said.

In the wild I giggled, guffawed, and growled.

Then back home — I stretched and again said my lines clearly.

Subtly of a sledgehammer

Using said with every piece of dialogue is as poetic as a hotel wake-up phone call. What it loses in style it makes up for in clarity. Since clarity is highest goal of dialogue attribution, it is better than fancy styles.

James said, “What do you mean I’ve got the jitters?”
“You are quaking like an Italian flag in a hurricane.” Said Leah.
“So? I can still help.” James said.
Leah said, “Right now, Nope. I can’t trust you with scissors.”

This is how I initially wrote dialogue. The problem with this method is that said becomes repetitive. It will grate on the ear within two pages.

Laugh a line

After writing a first draft for my fantasy novel, I was introduced to a fancy style of writing. It involves taking any verb, other than said, to convey the dialogue. This method bypasses all ear grating of using said continuously.

James giggled, “What do you mean I’ve got the jitters?”
“You are quaking like an Italian flag in a hurricane.” Explained Leah.
“So? I can still help.” James pleaded.
“Nope. Right now, I can’t trust you with scissors.” Leah denied.

The disadvantage of using any and all verbs is that they begin to sound silly. Or worse, pretentious. It is also a lazy way of getting across the speakers attitude. These problems are evident below.

“Will you go out with me?” Charles mewed.
“No. You smell like old fish.” Yosef countermanded.
“I treat you so well, and this is how I get repaid.” Bellowed Charles.
“Ha. Is that how this works? You earn dates with good behavior?” Joked Yosef.

This is a classic case of telling and not showing. Instead I recommend using action to paint the character’s attitude in the situation.

“Will you go out with me?” Charles said, leaning forward, head tilted.
Yosef wrinkled his nose, “No. You smell like old fish.
“I treat you so well, and this is how I get repaid.” Charles shook as he yelled.
“Ha.” Yosef leaned back and smirked, “Is that how this works? You earn dates with good behavior?”

My red and green coloring indicates which I prefer. I recommend dropping that 217 word list of ‘instead of said’ verbs. Start visualizing the action of your characters. This will get easier as you practice and requires a deeper intimacy with your characters. Which leads me into my stage of my journey.

Action is how Character is Revealed

Let’s go back to my original example, I will write the dialogue attribution as I would now. I realized after the second draft of my fantasy novel that my logophile vocabulary of verbs (Oogled, countermanded, prodded, chanted) only demoted my writing. I prefer choice verbs, character action, a sprinkling of said, and when possible: nothing.

James looked at Leah, eyebrows cocked. “What do you mean I’ve got the jitters?”
“You are quaking like an Italian flag in a hurricane.” Said Leah.
“So? I can still help.”
“Nope. Right now, I can’t trust you with scissors.”

James is established as the subject. His dialogue is then indicated by quotations. His actions explain that he confronts Leah — He’s not afraid to meet her gaze, and his quizzical emotion is clear. This could be part of his character, perhaps he often looks directly at people. I do not explain that James is shaking because in the next line Leah does it for us.

In the second line I use ‘said Leah’ to let the reader set up a back and forth with James and Leah. It is the smallest way to nudge the reader to understanding. This works because said is often “edited out” by the readers eye. By far, said is the most concise way to explain who is talking.

The last two lines use my favorite technique, doing nothing. Because the context has been in the first line, subtly affirmed in the second line, the speaker can be safely assumed for the third and forth line.

If more dialogue is spoken I will drop in small bits of action here and there to associate the quote with the character. This works especially well at turning points in the dialogue. The more action I put in, the slower the dialogue will read.

That’s all she wrote

Whether your writing journey follows mine or just crosses it, write with confidence in your experience. Clarity is the most important part of dialogue attribution. The style and poetry of your prose will evolve with your experience. I am happy to share mine.