Tag Archive - usage

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.”

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Apostrophes seem to give people a hard time. I’m not sure why. I have to restrain myself when I see (which is often) an incorrect use of apostrophes on restaurant signs and in menus. Why they are so common there, I’m not sure, but it’s a good thing for all writers to memorize these rules—and they’re not hard.

What is wrong with the sentences below?

• He was selling chocolates to the participant’s.
• The Milky Way’s were a better choice.
• Vast majority of people have TV’s .
• They were a well-known group in the 1960’s.

Answer: The apostrophe is incorrectly used in place of a plural. It should be participants, Ways, TVs, and 1960s. Continue Reading…

Numbers and Numerals Count

A few handy rules about numbers and numerals:

Don’t put the letter A in front of numeric values. Don’t say, “A 127 people chose option b,” or “the suit cost a $100.” Just say, “There were 127 people who chose option b,” or “the suit cost $100.” Be aware, too, that you can’t begin a sentence with a numeral:

Wrong: “127 people chose option B.”
Correct: “One hundred and twenty people chose option B” OR “A total of 127 people chose option B.”

The second choice is really better because you really aren’t supposed to spell out numbers over a hundred. Some editors argue that numerals shouldn’t be used in dialogue because people don’t “speak” in numerals, but there is nothing objectionable, according to Chicago style, that prevents a writer from using numerals in dialog. The main concern is you want to be clear and consistent. No one wants to read a sentence like “Hey, I got seventeen thousand, eight hundred, and fifty-six downloads on Amazon.” This is so much easier on the eyes:

  • “Hey, I saw you had 236 five-star reviews on Amazon—that’s great,” she said.

Chicago recommends using numerals for dates and in brand names like 7-Eleven.

  • “I graduated class of ’96.” (make sure your curly quote curves like a backward c)
  • “Let’s ride down to 7-Eleven and get eight hot dogs.”

Also be mindful when writing monetary values. Don’t write “$100 dollars,” just “$100.” You have already implied dollars by using the $ sign.

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