In other words, is it correct to write something like this:

"Oh," he laughed. "Sorry, I'm not sure what's with me today."

(Every time I see something like this, I think: "How is this peson laughing an talking at the same time? But other times seems OK for me. Strange.)

as an shorter version of this?

"Oh," he said with a laugh. "Sorry, I'm not sure what's with me today."

"Oh," he said laughing. "Sorry, I'm not sure what's with me today."

Other example:

"OK," she said with a sigh. "Just this time."

"OK," she said, sighing. "Just this time."

"OK," she sighed. "Just this time."

Because I've noticed by dialogues are cluttering with "withs" all of the sudden.

4 Answers 4


I don't have a problem with them (they're called bookisms, I believe) if:

  1. You don't overdo it. It's tempting to make every dialogue tag something vivid or extra. Don't. D.W. Smith pointed out in a writing tutorial once that "the word said is invisible." It really is. Be judicious with bookisms. Think of them as salt: a little is good; too much ruins the dish.
  2. You use them when they are necessary. That is, you use "sighed" because it conveys extra meaning which would otherwise be lost, and which can't be conveyed another way. For example: "'I hate you,' she crooned." Crooned means something very specific which is very difficult to describe using she said with TKTKTK. (Credit Kate Sherwood)

Other answers which will be useful to you:

Attributives in dialogue

I'm getting tired of "he said" "she said" in dialogue; how do I get around it?

Dialog, just what's the best way to write it?

  • 2
    Strongly agree. For variety, you can also occasionally describe the speakers mood instead of their speech directly, in which case the reader will likely apply the same mood to their speech. For instance, instead of "she sighed" you could try something like "she said, exhausted" or "she said, tired of fighting with him". It serves the same purpose and comes with the same caveats that Lauren already mentioned, it will just give you a little more flexibility to avoid becoming repetitive. Commented Jun 11, 2013 at 18:10

Using words like laughed and sighed give more information about how the person is talking while using adverbs like laughing and sighing tell what the talker is doing while communicating. As a reader, I interpret sentences like

"Ok," she said, sighing. "Just this time."

"Ok," she said with a sigh. "Just this time."

"Ok," she sighed. "Just this time."

differently. In the first one, the character seems to be saying "Ok," sighing with a pause, and then saying "Just this time". When she talks, it is separate from the sigh and her speaking voice is a normal tone. Similarly for the second example. For the third example though, the character isn't saying "Ok" in a normal speaking voice. She's being expressive with her tone and the sigh is part of what she's saying. It's like a groan or a yell - it's how the person says it vs. what they're doing while they say it.

For the laughing example, I always interpret it as the character is laughing and manages to get the words out in between or after the giggles. Definitely doable, definitely something that occurs in real life.

To answer your question, it depends what you're trying to convey. Generally, you don't want to do it too much, but not doing it at all can potentially leave the dialogue flat and without inflection. Find the balance between describing how the character's talking, showing what they're doing while they're talking, and just letting them talk.


I like to test a dialog tag by putting the tag into a question like this:

What did he <tag>?

If the question makes sense, and if you would answer the question with words, the tag is probably okay.

For example:

What did he say?

That's a meaningful question, and you'd answer it with words. So say is legit as a dialogue tag.

On the other hand:

What did he laugh?

This fits only in the very rare case where the person is uttering the words as laughs. Mostly, people don't laugh words. So laugh doesn't (usually) work as a dialogue tag.

What did he sigh?

Same as laugh.

The examples you chose are interesting ones. Each action involves exhalation, so it's possible to utter words as part of the exhalation. And when the words are uttered as part of the exhalation, I'm okay with them as dialogue tags.

But unless you mean "he uttered the words while exhaling in this way," the tag doesn't seem technically correct.

Another fun one:

"Apoplexy," he belched.

In the examples you gave, there is a simple fix that involves no extra words, no extra characters. You can simply change the comma to a period.

"Oh." He laughed. "Sorry, ..."

This makes the action separate from the uttering. Of course, this means that it is no longer a dialogue tag. Also, it (in my mind) shifts the rhythm ever so slightly, suggesting a slightly longer beat between "oh" and "sorry."

  • 1
    Probably different languages would be more/less tolerant of this. In German, you often don't get the main verb until the end of a long sentence. So Germans might be fine with: {"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my entire seventy-three years of living," she laughed.} But in English it's jarring.
    – dmm
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 20:11

Using it as "'...' laughed John" is valid and syntactically correct. If you want different words, you can go the J.K. Rowling route of always writing "said (word)-ly," or you can use the link below, which has (I think) just about every word you can use instead of "said" in the English language.

Examples of How to Use: Words instead of Said

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