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

17 Quality Verbs and The Why

When you are learning a second language, the quickest way to obtain fluency is by learning more verbs. But, rarely do writers work on their verb vocabulary in their native language. This lack causes writers to get lost in the sea of clarity. Their ships endlessly spiraling from weak verb to weak verb.

This should not be your fate! You have the opportunity to chart a course out of that archipelago.

People want action: Give them Verbs

Powerful verbs create powerful prose. Before you consider any other type of word to upgrade your writing, master the verb.

Quality Verbs are Short

Don’t bore readers with your large words. Short words always read faster. Action should be fast. Slow action is a disservice to the reader. Use snappy words.

When should you use long verbs?

I love some large verbs. A favorite being ‘overwhelm. I pay for this word in advance by using short verbs around it. Long verbs help with contrast, but only if you are using short verbs.

Quality Verbs are Concise

Consider the sentence. ‘Be more thoughtful of the sentence.’ That sentence is better written as ‘consider the sentence’.

While we write, we encounter state-of-being verbs, they signify an opportunity to find a better verb.

State-of-being verbs are words like, are, is, was, and were. They are necessary. Don’t religiously remove them. Be mindful of how you write. Mind the words you use. [Sentence edited to remove state-of-being verb ‘be’]

While we are writing, every time there is a state-of-being verb, it is a sign that there may be a better verb to use.
While we write, we encounter state-of-being verbs, they signify an opportunity to find a better verb.

These two examples delineate the power of using quality verbs.

Adverbs must be stricken down. [Not: adverbs need to be stricken down. Must is a better verb in this case]

Adverbs act like salt. They heighten flavor but no one wants to taste salt alone.

Apparently, he ate quickly. Thoroughly surprising his fellow campers. He promptly and softly walked back to his cabin. Happily he cozily got into bed and peacefully slept.
He wolfed down his food. Shocking his fellow campers into reverence. Without wasting time, he sauntered back to his cabin. He snuggled into bed, and napped.

I dropped ‘apparently’, it lacked importance. ‘Thoroughly’ became ‘into reverence.’ The emotion of reverence described my intention better than an adverb ever could. ‘Promptly’ became ‘Without wasting time’. ‘Sauntered’ is a beautiful verb, we will be seeing it later. ‘Happily’ was dropped: not important. Peacefully slept could have been just ‘slept’, but I decided napped was a better word.

The exact choices were subjective, but the end result is not. You are capable of stronger writing, let your ear guide you. Don’t grab fancy words for the sake of them, let new words meet you one by one. As if you were going on blind dates with them.

Quality Verbs are Fun

The pirates jumped on board the ship. They drew their weapons and charged. Jimbo was the first to charge back, he drew his pistol and shot a zombie pirate. The priate fell onto the aft deck. Jimbo needed to get himself and Francisco off the ship. If they could get a rowboat they could sneak away into the night. The only problem was Francisco was already unconsciousness.
The pirates leapt onto the ship. They unsheathed their swords and attacked. Jimbo confronted them head on, he aimed his pistol and blasted a zombie pirate. The pirate collapsed onto the aft deck. Jimbo needed to get himself and Francisco off the ship. If they got a rowboat they could slip away into the night. Jimbo’s problem was Francisco fell. A zombie struck him unconscious.

I rest my case.

There are two things I did to promote this prose. First, I used synonyms to remove repeated verbs. The synonyms I chose better described the nouns. Both a sword and pistol can be drawn, but unsheathed is better for swords and aim better for pistols.

Second, I turned passive voice into active voice. This will be elaborated on in a later article.

List of 17 Quality Verbs

This list is short for a reason, I actually want you to learn them. With each verb, a micro-essay elaborates my opinion. I hope you will love them deeper than I.

Let’s chew on these verbs.

Let

Let is verb that paints the intentions and experience of a character. Let me show you what I mean in this example.

‘Rachel let her heels click on the floor. The squabbling men paused and looked at her.’

There are a few things going on here, we know she is walking. We are describing an effect of walking (heels clicking) to indirectly hint at her step. This works because the sentence describes her relationship to her environment. Rachel is letting her heels click, this implies she is in control. Characters that are in control are able to make choices, and choices reveal character. In this case, she is letting the men know that she is there; they hear her heels click. By extension, this means Rachel wants to be noticed.

I love this verb, ‘let’ gives intention and control to a character. It is a common word, but I don’t see it used often in writing. It is short, snappy, I like those qualities. Sprinkle it in, you will not disappoint you.

Aim

Humans are hunting creatures, we have bifocal vision to help us aim. Take advantage of this verb to describe character intentions. Like let, it is short and common.

Overwhelm

Overwhelm serves two functions that I know of. It is a powerful verb for emotion. For example: Joy overwhelmed Jack. Note how I made joy the noun, to keep it in active voice. This isn’t strictly necessary. Saying ‘Jack was overwhelmed with joy’ works, but I prefer the active phrasing of this idea.

Naturally, overwhelm can be used in conflict. ‘The army overwhelmed the rebels.’

Say

The absolute best word to use for dialogue attribution is said. Infinitive form: ‘to say’.

Why? Say is simple. Due to it’s simplicity it is applicable in all forms of writing, for any character. Authors use it. Readers like the familiarity.

Said is an interesting word. It gets editted out by the reader’s eye. Without so much as a ripple, it nudges the dialogue forward.

Feint

Give your audience conflict. The verb ‘to feint’ implies conflict. Feinting is a lie by action.

When a character feints a strike, or feints a helping hand it signifies that they want their counter party to be in the dark about what they are actually doing.

All of that power is in five letters. Use them.

Become

Become is a powerful transformation verb.

I love ‘become’. I often write ‘is turned into’. This clunky three word phrase can be replaced by some form of to become.

Narrative fictions dramatizes transformation. ‘To become’ is your ticket to making the audience believe it.

Pause

Characters are either acting, or thinking. When a character thinks they will change what they are doing (new information), or continue (fighting off doubts). Often, writers use stop when they should be using pause.

As a quick rule: when the character changes his plan, use stop.

If the character continues his plan, use pause.

With pause, you can work character doubts seamlessly into the narrative.

Rub

Versatile verb. You will find your favorite uses in no time.

My favorite use: directing attention to discomfort.

‘Fred rubbed his eyes.’ — Tired

‘Fred rubbed his feet.’ — Sore

‘Fred rubbed his hands together.’ — Anxious

This isn’t a list of cliches to memorize. You can discover uses by a simple experiment. Your in the comfort of your own home. No? Pretend you are. Rub anything nearby. Instantly your brain constructs a story to match with the action.

Hair? — Self-conscious

Doorknob? — Indecisive

Nose? — Sick

Wrist/watch? — Impatient

Naturally, ‘To rub’ has limits. Find them.

Grapple

Let your characters break each other’s arms.

Or a gnome can’t hold a human broom, and grapples with it instead.

I love the sound of grapple — I prefer it to wrestle (which sounds like a two-year-old’s attempt to say whistle) — but that’s not enough to justify its power.

Conflict between two actors is built into the sub-structure of grapple. Every time you read grapple, it signals conflict. Conflict compels readers to turn pages, spellbound, when they ought to sleep.

Squint

You are a fool if you miss this opportunity to capture body language so fluently. Body language is complicated, to describe a pose in detail will bore the reader.

His right hand was on his breast, the left hung limply. He kneeled — BLAH BLAH BLAH. I won’t read this drivel.

Use this powerful verb: SHOW your characters attitude.

Respond

There are many ways to respond. Making this verb versatile. Often used with the preposition ‘by’.

She responded by flipping the bird.

Good. We can imply ignoring by misdirection.

She responded by looking away.

Use a colon for more punch. Fruity, but I leave it to your discernment.

She responded: a left hook at his jaw.

Em-dash for style.

She responds — walking away.

Assemble

Groups of people can be assembled. Space engineers assemble Sci-fi thingy-a-whatsits.

When an actor assembles a team, it shows her leadership.

After the assembly is well, assembled, the team robs an armored money-van. Or something equally important.

Evil assembles its minions too.

Like clouds assembling into a storm, when your novel’s factions assemble it only means one thing: war.

Sauntered

Sauntered is a fantastic synonym for walk. When I write a character walking softly, I am tempted to write sneak, tiptoe, slink, stalk, or tread. While all of these verbs get close, they associate with stealth. (Except for tread, which is slow, but not by necessity quiet.)

Saunter fulfills the purpose of easy, quiet walking without sneaking. However, it risks being seductive. I don’t mind. Saunter is a verb writers ignore, but readers understand.

Maintain

At times, things remain unchanged, but not without effort. If your hero maintains something, they care for it as it is. Show that care.

He maintained his aloofness — Classic, with good reason.

He maintains an arsenal of weapons. — Paranoia is a form of caring.

I maintain that the law doesn’t matter. — The ‘I’ holds this position.

Maintain is a versatile verb. I feel that it has a formal air, your experience may differ.

Form

Experience forms a boy into a man.

The wire mesh formed the furniture.

Smoke swirled about and formed a tunnel.

God formed the world.

Form is a powerful verb. It transforms, builds, and manifests. Transformation motivates narrative, but used in this why appears rarely.

More often, use it in environment descriptions, it readily builds complex structure from any material. For example: the towering greenery flattened and formed a ceiling.

From nothing creation is rarer than the first use. But may I suggest formation of ideas. For example: A new idea formed in Charles mind. Or: Charles mind formed a new idea.

Did you see that? Form is powerful. Something can be changing, or causing change and form will describe both.

Faze

Best used in conjunction with a negative modifier. ‘Magic did not faze Quibbiespak’, ‘The herd of pink elephants didn’t even faze Quibbiespak’, or ‘Nothing seemed to faze Quibbiespak.’

As you can tell, Quibbiespak is one unconcerned fellow. Which is the point, if a character is unfazed, it implies them being above it all.

Use in moderation, trust your ear.

Where can I find more?

Read more.

…and I’ll share more lists later.

Even more important than finding more is strengthening your connection to the verbs you learn. Go on a second date with them. Now that these verbs are at your attention, you will spot them as you read. Note how powerful they are.

Seize that fire, and run with it.