"Albert, you're already drunk! Stop it!" she implored him.

"Nah, if I stop drinking, I won't have an excuse to miss work tommorrow!" he joked around.

I am wondering if it's possible to use phrasal verbs like "joked around" in our dialog tags. Also, aside phrasal verbs, is it possible to not even use a verb in our dialog tags? I can't imagine it being possible, but I thought maybe someone had an example in mind where we don't use any verb or phrasal verb at all.

3 Answers 3


In English, the dialogue tags you want to be using most of the time are "said" and "asked". "Answered"/"replied" is also OK. Those dialogue tags are transparent, as it where - our mind slides off them, we do not linger.

You can add some nuance, if you need: "he said with a smile" or "he said angrily". But it's better that the smile, the anger, etc. are evident from the words being said, rather than added in a description tag.

Other dialogue tags, like "implored" are a way of giving extra emphasis. They should be used sparingly. The same way you wouldn't put an exclamation mark after every single sentence in your text.

"He joked around" should not be used as a dialogue tag - joking around is not a way of saying things. Same goes for things that aren't verbs at all.

You can, on the other hand, leave multiple lines completely without dialogue tags, so long as it's clear who's saying what. This is particularly true in scenes with only two characters present.

So, to sum up, don't overthink dialogue tags. Don't try to get creative. Use the simplest tools that would do the job.

This advice is only true of English writing - other languages, like French and Russian have a different view on this matter. And it is true only of modern writing - if you wish to imitate something from an earlier period, you'd want to look at literature from that time and find our what dialogue tags were common back then.

  • 2
    However, "he joked" is just fine if used sparingly.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 5:28
  • 1
    The say/ask/answer only school is depriving the language of all the synonymous words which have a slight tone to paint the way something is said. To joke, giggle, threaten, scream, yell, stammer... All these are proper verbs, not just bases vor adjectives!
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 7:03

First, if the context is obvious, you don't need a dialogue tag at all.

"Albert, you're already drunk! Stop it!" she implored him.

"Nah, if I stop drinking, I won't have an excuse to miss work tomorrow!"

Second, if the dialogue ends in anything but a period, I prefer the attribution up front. Not all authors agree, and I don't always do it myself, but if the reader should be putting any spin on the tone, it helps if they know up front how to read the words.

Alice implored him, "Albert, you're already drunk! Stop it!"

Albert giggled. "Nah, if I stop drinking, I won't have an excuse to miss work tomorrow!"

In general, as I have done here, you don't even absolutely need "said" or a dialogue tag. You can indicate who is talking by directing the reader's attention to a character by describing an action on the same line. "Albert giggled."

Instead of "implored" we can describe Alice's expression:

Albert poured himself another glass, and Alice knit her brow in concern. "Albert, you're already drunk! Stop it!"

Now I do use "said" frequently, as Galastel says it is transparent to readers. But I also think every time a person talks, you have an opportunity to aid the visual and action imagination of the reader by describing an action instead of a tag. It is an opportunity to add visual body language and facial expressions to the conversation, which is important in avoiding the sense of disembodied talking heads.


Yes, it is possible to use dialogue tags without verbs. In the following example, the viewpoint character hears a voice and labels it with a name when he recognizes who is speaking:

Anna was talking to someone.
"Give me the keys, Anna." John. He must have come over from the office.

And of course you can use phrasal verbs, if they fit:

John rattled off the names of his classmates: "Peter, Paul, Sophia..."
"But Sophia is gone!" Anna blurted out.
"...Bill, Jake, Heather..." John rambled on, ignoring Anna.

I feel it should be "she implored" and "he joked" in your examples.

In the context of that dialogue, where we know who she is talking to, it is clear whom she implores, and repeating it is redundant. And "joking around" means that someone behaves in a playful and lighthearted manner without seriousness. "Joking around" doesn't describe a single utterance, as in your example, but a frame of mind that someone is in. It doesn't mean the same as "to joke", which means "utter something funny". Someone might comment on an utterance that they were "only joking around" – e.g. "I was only joking around (when I said I wouldn't have an excuse)." –, but I feel that labelling a turn of dialogue with "... he joked around" is bad style.

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