Do Signs Read?

Do you find it a little kooky as I do that we have expressions like “the sign said . . .” or “the notice read . . .”? I mean, signs can’t talk, and notices haven’t gone to school. But what’s implied by these expressions is something along the lines of “the person who wrote the sign said . . . ” Regardless, since signs aren’t people or talking animals, they don’t need speaker tags. If you remember the rule, whenever you use a speaker tag, you put a comma before the speech: George said, “Keep out.”

With something like a sign you don’t need the comma. Just say: The sign said “Keep Out.”

If you are referring to a type of sign or notice, just give it initial caps.


  • Pay attention to the No Smoking sign
  • I ignored the Keep Out sign

The same principle applies to forms:

  • Fill out that Consent to Search form

In your spare time, if you’re bored, you could try to teach your signs to read. Good luck.


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  1. I enjoyed reading this post and I think I need to go back through my manuscript to make sure my signs, forms, etc. don’t have a better voice than I do. You’ve never seen a literate sign before? It must be a Texas thing . . . and we’re always fixing things too. I’m fixin’ to do this, I’m fixin to do that. Have a merry Christmas, C.S.! 🙂

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