Tag Archive - speaker tags

Let’s Not Eat Grandma

Commas seem to be the bane of many writers, and I’ve written numerous posts on their usage. I’ve even seen workshops devoted entirely to comma use. Yes, those tiny curly bits of punctuation can be intimidating!

You’ve probably heard that you need to use commas with speaker tags (“Go away,” Sally said). But you also need to use commas with direct address. There is a huge difference between the following sentences:

  • Let’s eat Grandma.
  • Let’s eat, Grandma.

So, that’s not too hard to get, right? Offset not just people’s names but anything (animal or object) in direct address:

  • Listen, you dumb computer—I’ve had it with you.
  • I will give you a biscuit, Fido, if you sit.
  • Hey, everyone, hurry up!
  • Please, sir, I’d like some more.

And just a reminder of something I’ve gone over before: be sure to capitalize professions in direct address:

  • Is that test correct, Doctor?
  • Take me home, Captain.
  • Yes, Boss.
  • No, Mother, I don’t want soup.
  • Go take out the trash, Son.

I hope, dear writer, you now understand the need to insert those commas in the right places. I, for one, don’t want to eat Grandma.

He Said, She Said

Here’s a worthy bit of advice–only use speaker tags when needed. Too many writers feel they have to put “he said” (or worse: “he quipped, interjected, exclaimed”) every time any character says something. However, most of the time the reader knows who is speaking. If you are writing a conversation with just two people, you only occasionally need to mention the speaker’s name just to keep the reader clear. But alternating with a narrative tag instead is a good idea. Don’t use both.


John shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said.


John shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Be sure that when you do use an action (narrative tag) to identify who is speaking, you keep the action and speech together in the same paragraph to avoid confusion. Too often in the manuscripts I edit, I get confused as to who is speaking because the writer will put a line of speech on one line, and then that character’s action in the next paragraph along with a different character’s speech.

And it always sounds more natural to say “John said” rather than “said John.”

Speaker Tags ~ You Can’t Cough Speech

Speaker tags can only use verbs that can be used to create speech. Writers often get creative in their speaker tags, but structurally they are incorrect.


“I love you,” he smiled (or laughed, joked, lied, sighed, coughed, chuckled, etc.).
You can’t sigh speech or cough speech, so only use verbs like said, asked, replied. Simpler is better. The word said is most recommended because it is considered invisible—the reader is so used to seeing that word that she glosses over it, which is a good thing.


“I love you,” he said with a smile.
“I love you.” He coughed, then added, “I mean . . . I think I do.”