RedPen Editing
Speech tags

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Speech tags are the bits outside of the dialogue which tell the reader who is speaking. and the manner in which the dialogue is delivered. They can appear before or after the text, or in between:

  • He said: ‘Hello, my name is Peter.’
  • ‘Hello, my name is Peter,’ he said.
  • ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘My name is Peter.’

Often, as in the examples above, the speech tag is unnecessary. ‘Hello, my name is Peter.’ is sufficient because the quote marks indicate someone is speaking, and what he says indicates he is a he!

What’s the purpose of a speech tag, if included?

  • To identify the speaker
    When you have  conversation between two people, it’s not necessary to include mention of who is speaking every time. If you write in a clever enough way, it’s obvious to the reader. Every now and then, though, the reader might need a reminder.
    With conversations involving three or more, it’s much harder for the reader to keep track, so you need to be more careful that there is no ambiguity.
  • To maintain the interest of the reader
    If the reader has to pause for even half a second trying to work out who’s speaking, you’ve ruined the flow.
  • To break up long sections of dialogue
    Characters will rarely make a long speech so it makes sense to keep sections of dialogue to a minimum. This makes them more accessible.
  • To mirror natural rhythms of speech within a conversation
    Characters never just talk; they are usually doing something at the same time. A speech tag might convey some action or mannerism. It can be used to change the mood – to create tension.

Is there a better device?

Yes! Make the spoken words work. Then, instead of a speech tag, have the next sentence describe the action.


#1 One way of introducing the name of a character is to have someone else use it in dialogue.

‘Hello, Mary. Lovely to see you.’

#2 Dialogue can be used to show the relationship between two characters.

‘Hi, Sis! How are you?’

#3 Try using no speech tag at all. Instead, let the next sentence describe the action that accompanies or follows the dialogue.

#4 Vary the positioning of speech tags. For character A, you might only use speech tags after the dialogue. For character B, you might have an action sentence first, followed by their dialogue. This might create tension between them: B is in charge and A is responding to B’s behaviour? Or vice versa?


#1 Avoid using adverbs in speech tags. Instead, make the words do the work / convey the mood.

#2 Avoid using a speech tag which tells the reader something he/she already knows.

‘You do that one more time and you’ll be grounded,’ Mum threatened.

The words show it’s a threat! Change the verb. The speech tag could become redundant, if we know it’s Mum who is talking. That’s easily establish by having the reminder response ‘But, Mum …’

#3 Only use a tag if leaving it out makes a difference.

  • ‘I hate you,’ she whispered.
  • ‘I hate you,’ she shouted.

Even so, a clever reply makes the tag redundant.

  • ‘What did you say? Speak up.’
  • ‘No need to shout. I got the message.’