I often see writers use "said" instead of "asked" when their character asks a question.

e.g. From The Hobbit:

“Where else should I be?” said the wizard

Is it a mistake that hasn't been caught by the editor, or is it acceptable to ask a question with "said"?


4 Answers 4


It's stylistic. You can use either. "Said" isn't wrong.

Some writers feel very strongly about "bookisms," which is using words instead of "said" which tend to be more elaborate and give some action to speaking. (hissed, crooned, muttered, sighed, barked, laughed, snarled, grumbled) Personally I'm fine with them if they are used appropriately and judiciously, but your mileage may vary.

"Asked" isn't really a bookism, but it is a touch redundant (you pretty much only ask a question).

(Plus look, we're talking Tolkien, and linguistics professors can do whatever the hell they like with languages.)


Because it's less intrusive.

Anything you speak is something you say; "asking" is merely a more specific description of how the thing is being said.

Some writing wisdom holds that using "said" is lazy/boring, but always using specific descriptors like "asked" when the questioning tone is obvious from context can be equally disruptive to the flow of reading. "Said" doesn't call attention to itself like "asked" does, and lets the reader continue the conversation with minimal interruption. Overuse of more descriptive verbs may lead to Tom Swifties.


In this case he wasn't expecting an answer. Gandalf, that is.

  • 3
    You're answering the example, not the question. But... this is technically correct. Jan 6, 2014 at 4:21
  • The other answers have merit, although they rub my sense of proper wrong, I only mismatch like that when I want to draw attention.
    – hildred
    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:25
  • 2
    I think this IS answering the question, at least partially. When someone asks a rhetorical question, they're not really asking. They are saying. "Can I kiss you?" asked Susie. "Is the Pope Catholic?" said John.
    – dmm
    Jan 8, 2014 at 20:56
  • You may have answered the example, but it illustrate very well the fact that the choice of words always adds meaning to the sentence, it always nuances the text. However, making the nuances too obvious may be a style error: some must be left to the reader's interpretation as he co-creates the story.
    – babou
    Jan 10, 2014 at 11:13

Said is always appropriate as a dialogue tag, whether it's a question or a statement, and asked is fine as well when a character is asking a question.

Side note: Said and asked are the ONLY dialogue tags you should ever use. Grunted, hissed, wept, replied, cried, etc, are not acceptable and will get you a manuscript full of red marks from your editor if you ever try to publish. These colorful tags are actually considered lazy writing, as the emotion you are trying to convey in the dialogue should be present in the line itself or in the description.

When I published my first novel, I spent way too much time correcting these colorful dialogue tags and changing them to said and asked. Live and learn. Unfortunately, students in schools are told the exact opposite. I've even seen teachers send home a list of tags to use instead of said.

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