Writers - I feel a complete bozo asking a grammar question, but...?

...someone in my critique group has got me second guessing myself. When you write dialogue that you attribute to a named character, which comes first in the dialogue tag - the character name or the verb? That is, which of these examples is correct?

1. "Hello," said Joe.

2. "Hello," Joe said.

If you think both are correct, which is "more" correct? I'd be interested in hearing why you chose the one you did.

I'd also be interested in knowing which country you live in, as I suspect part of the reason for my disagreement with the critter is that I'm British and she's American.


Comma inside or outside the quotes is a British vs American thing - British English puts it inside, American outside - AFAIK, anyway.

Professional writers use "said" about 90% of the time because it's invisible. Fancy dialogue tags might get you an A in a creative writing assignment, but they get you rejected by literary agents and publishers.

The person who's telling me I've got the speaker and the verb the wrong way round has had at least six books published, which is at least six more than I've had, which is why I normally trust her judgement in literary matters.

And those of you who said you enjoyed or are enjoying my book - thank you. That's made my evening :-)

Update 2:

Note that I didn't say which variant my critique partner thought was right - only that we disagreed about it. I didn't want to bias anybody's opinions in advance.

So far, with 29 answers, we have 6 votes for "said Joe" (3 who said they're from the UK, 1 from Canada), 12 for "Joe said" (3 from the USA, 1 from Canada) and 10 for "both are right/it doesn't matter/make up your own mind" (5 from the USA, 1 from Canada, 1 from Asia). That, plus the statements that "said Joe" sounds old-fashioned to some, confirms my suspicions that it's a British vs American English thing. British English tends to be more conservative than American English regarding what's considered "correct" grammar.

28 Answers

  • 10 years ago
    Favourite answer

    That's not a grammar issue at all. Either is grammatically correct. Your colleague in the critique group is mistaken.

    I'm sure I speak for the entire United States of America on this --- with the exception of that one individual.

    Note: It just occurred to me what may have brought this about. Consider these two sentences:

    Joe said hello.


    "Hello," said Joe.

    Maybe that's what some people are thinking/comparing?

    EDIT: You really got me curious over this one. I decided to check one of my reference books, SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS, and, boy, is my face red. (Even so, I'll probably do it both ways in the future.) This is quoted directly from what is stated in the section called Dialogue Mechanics:

    Place the character's name or pronoun first in a speaker attribution ("Dave said"). Reversing the two ("said Dave"), though often done, is less professional. It has a slightly old-fashioned, first-grade-reader flavor ("Run, Spot, run," said Jane). After all, "said he" fell out of favor sometime during the Taft administration.


  • 10 years ago

    To be perfectly honest, I do not know which is "more" correct of your two examples.

    I would be more inclined to use, "Hello," Joe said.

    However, If it were my writing, I would do two things.

    The first would be to read the sentence out loud. Which version sounds more natural and seems to flow better? If one sounds far more natural than the other, I would be inclined to choose that.

    The second thing I would do would be to walk to my bookshelf and select a book that was written by an author who is based in my country and published by one of the bigger publishers (i.e. Penguin, Harper Collins,). Preferably the book would have been published in the last few years. I would read through some of the dialogue carefully to see what that author/publisher has done. If they exclusively use one or the other, then the one used is most likely the correct one. If the character name and verb appear to be interchangeable then both versions are correct. (That said, it may be advisable to look at more than one book before drawing any hard and fast conclusions.)

    I am from Adelaide, Australia. UK English is used here.

  • The comma thing is just plain wrong and you can tell by the number of thumbs down he received. We all put the comma on the inside, especially with dialogue, and those that think otherwise need to grab a grammar book.

    Both are correct. I'll say I use the second one more. I'm American, so I'd say that's our "usual" tag. I also have a critique group member who's British, and she often uses the first one. So, it's a cultural disagreement.

  • 10 years ago

    Both are acceptable, so far as I know. I've seen it both ways, often in the same book. I think a lot of authors like to mix it up a little so it's not all the same.

    Just to be sure, I went through and checked a couple books lying around my house. In both cases, "said Joe" was used more often, but I could easily find examples of "Joe said" as well. For reference, one was a Terry Pratchett novel, and the other was a Robert E. Howard (of Conan the Barbarian fame) collection of short stories. So two well-known authors, one from the US and one from England.

    Your experience seems similar to some that I've had; I swap manuscripts with another writer to get feedback, and they find things that are "wrong" that just doesn't make sense to me. All writers have their own rules and opinions on what makes good writing, and I think often the line between the two blurs.

    EDIT: Something else just occurred to me. In the example that you offered, the second option ("Hello," said Joe) actually rhymes. So in this very specific case I would probably opt to go with #1 to avoid this slight distraction to the reader.

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  • Unkurg
    Lv 5
    10 years ago

    I'm late for the party as usual, Steven. :P

    Anyway, the second one looks more natural to me (though if I actually sound it out, the first one sounds more natural. Go figure), though I don't doubt that both are grammatically correct. I'm an American, though I'm not sure how much of a difference that makes. As far as where the comma goes, I've always put it within the quotation marks. Having the comma on the outside just looks weird to me.

  • 10 years ago

    Neither is wrong of course, both are perfectly acceptable. It's a matter of preference.

    I personally prefer 'Hello,' Joe said.

    It sounds better and that's what I come across the most.

    However, for looks, "Hello," said Joe. looks more complete.

    The majority vote appears to be Number 2 and that's also the one I come across the most. Sorry to your friend but I think she's been outvoted :/

    I'm British, FTW! xD

  • Alex
    Lv 4
    10 years ago

    I'm British and I prefer number one, though I would consider both to be correct. I don't think either of them seem more formal than the other though, and I definitely see the first one more in books I read, but that may be because of the localised editing - who can say?

    It's probably a classic example of one of those small British/American English things. Oh well.

  • 10 years ago

    Both are correct, with the second being the modern choice.

    Asking doesn't make you a bozo.

    (By the way, I am in the process of reading The Wizard's Daughter. I don't have an authonomy account, so I thought I'd tell you here that I'm really enjoying it)

  • 10 years ago

    I think both are correct. However, I think the second one: "'Hello,' Joe said" flows better. It sounds smoother and nicer to my ears. Maybe it's just because I'm used to it in all the books that I read (mostly Young Adult Fiction :P) "'Hello,' said Joe." Just seems as old fashioned and a little too proper to me.

  • 10 years ago

    Don't worry, I go completely neurotic and nitpick my writing all the time.

    I think they are both equally correct. I generally use "X said" more than I use "said X" for some odd reason. I guess it's just a quirk of mine; I think it flows better.

    I live in Asia, English is my first language, but I also was raised in a multicultural environment, so there's that.


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