Background: I'm helping a friend edit their fiction. I'm frequently left confused on anything related to dialogue tags.

“Yes, but I mean no,” Steve stumbles over his words. “Not the come home part.”

As far as I can tell, "stumbles over his words" is being treated as a dialogue tag because of the comma in "Yes, but I mean no,". Is that correct?

1 Answer 1


A sentence can indicate who is speaking without being attached by a comma.

“Yes, but I mean no.” Steve stumbles over his words. “Not the come home part.”

In this instance, Steve stumbles over his words. is a complete sentence which interrupts the dialogue, which consists of two complete sentences. It's clear who is speaking, so you don't have to add he said or the like. Use a period at the end of the first sentence of dialogue.

You use a comma to attach dialogue to a narrative tag, which may or may not be a complete sentence.

"Yes, but I mean no," says Steve.

He says, "Yes, but I mean no."

"Yes, but I mean no," he stammers.

"Yes, but I mean no," Steve stammers, watching Bucky's face.

  • Thanks for the reply. One question though; How can I tell the difference between "stumbles over his words" and "stammers"? I see that "stumbles over his words" is an action, but what makes it so? Mainly asking so I can better identify what counts as a dialogue tag in the future. Hope that makes sense.
    – mh9
    Jan 26, 2019 at 21:04
  • @mh9 The various tags are called dialog tags, dialog bookisms, and dialog action tags. jenniferellis.ca/blog/2013/11/8/dialogue-tags
    – SFWriter
    Jan 27, 2019 at 0:28
  • @mh9 A dialogue tag is attached to the dialogue in the same sentence and contains a verb which describes how the dialogue is uttered (said, whispered, asked, shouted, grumbled, stuttered). "Steve stumbles over his words" is a separate sentence with an action, so it's an action tag. Jan 27, 2019 at 1:30

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