This might be a very trivial question but I don't know what to google to get an answer so asking anyways.

In this dialogue;

"I have such a miserable cold, your sarcastic remarks are hardly making any effect on me," he commented.

Should the phrase 'he commented' come before or after what he commented? I also tried reading some novels I have downloaded to see what others have done. It seems both ways are used. I am not able to understand how its decided.


2 Answers 2


It depends on the context. If you think it is clear to a reader who is speaking, don't use a tag.

If you think it will not be clear who is speaking, put the tag first, to orient the reader, so the speech is not disembodied until the end.

Also put the tag first if you will use something besides "said":

Richard screamed, "Don't bother me!"

Your first example is wrong, if a tag follows, the statement ends in a comma.

"Don't bother me," he said.

The use of an end tag is typically a device to avoid awkwardness in continuing in the same paragraph with additional exposition.

"Don't bother me," he said, and rolled over in the bed, turning his back on her.

But it can be avoided, and save words, if it is clear.

"Don't bother me." He rolled over in the bed, turning his back on her.

Personally I find the second version stronger, and seldom use tags following the speech.

You can also avoid tags and enhance the dialogue by using action cues.

Mary hesitated, then picked up Richard's two hundreds and handed them to Bill. "Alright. Let's do it."


Mark frowned, then turned back to the mirror and continued shaving. "Really? I must have driven right past that."

These increase the visuals, tell the reader who is talking, and avoid "said" tags completely. When you read them, the visual of the action (and what is going on in the scene) also clues the reader into the tones, so you can avoid characterizing the tone of the speech, like "Mary said resignedly" or "Mark mused" or whatever.

  • 2
    This is the first time I see the advice to not use non-say verbs after the dialogue. What's the reasoning for this?
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 17:18
  • 3
    @Llewellyn What's the reasoning for this? The reason is simple mechanics; people read from left to right. So if you tell them after they have already read the dialogue, then they didn't read it the way you intended, and they either have to read it again with the emotion, volume or tone you provided, or they don't bother but then what they "heard" in their imagination was neutral, and their imagination of the line is not as impactful as you hoped. "said" is the only neutral. If you want your modifier to influence how the reader imagines the dialogue spoken, they need to read it first.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 21:13
  • I have written most of the dialogues the way you showed in example>>Mark frowned, then turned back to the mirror and continued shaving. "Really? I must have driven right past that."<<, but if there are many I have written the way, "Mary said resignedly"... Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 11:44
  • Thank you for the answer though, It solves my problem. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 11:54
  • @cool_bodhi Typically, the advice is to avoid "-ly" adverbs (Although JK Rowling uses them extensively, but also her story is for younger readers). If possible, you should do the "resignedly" in the same way, show an action or thought of Mary (e.g. This guy's an idiot or 'Mary rolled her eyes.') before she says her line. When you put "Mary said resignedly" after a line of dialogue, I have already read and imagined the dialogue the wrong way. If some action or thought of resignation precedes the dialogue, I will read and imagine it the right way, they way you (the author) intended.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 12:13

For me, it all has to do with rhythm.

Read the conversation aloud. You'll hear where dialog tags feel like they should and shouldn't be. This is one of the ways that reading a lot educates writers about how to write. As you read you're -- among other things -- training your ear for that rhythm.

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