For Writers: A list of “talking” verbs

UPDATE: Go HERE for a revised and expanded list.

I write a lot of conversations into my novel, and I found myself in a rut last week.

“She said”

“He spat”

“She answered”

“He whispered”

Apparently I like those four verbs. Spat was always when someone said something nasty. Whisper was one particular character because “mutter” has connotations of low self esteem and “said softly” sounds dumb. Answered and said are self explanatory.

In the interest of diversifying my conversations, I decided to look up a list of verbs for talking. Perhaps I did not choose a good set of search terms, but google gave me nothing. Instead, I used and compiled my own list. So for your writing pleasure, here’s a nice alphabetical list of 64 verbs to use for conversations. Please let me know if I’ve missed any good ones.

Admit Drone Ramble Sob
Advise Exclaim Repeat Spit
Announce Falter Reply Sputter
Answer Groan Report Squawk
Argue Growl Respond Squeal
Bark Hiss Retort Stammer
Bellow Holler Roar State
Blurt Howl Sass Stutter
Call Interrupt Scream Tattle
Chatter Lie Screech Twitter
Coax Moan Shout Wail
Complain Mumble Shriek Weep
Confess Murmur Sigh Whimper
Cough Parrot Slur Whine
Cry Preach Snarl Whisper
Demand Proclaim Sniff Yell
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21 thoughts on “For Writers: A list of “talking” verbs

  1. Thanks for the comment, Trevor. I actually completely agree with you and rarely use any of these words in my writing. I prefer using “said” and actions. I’d delete this post, but it gives me the most traffic of anything I’ve ever written. ;)

  2. I agreed with Micah. I prefer to let the dialogue do the describing. LOTS of HE SAIDS and SHE SAIDS are a good thing. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on how to write lately and one constant that seems to keep popping up is that we don’t give readers enough credit. If your character says, “Shut the hell up” and we know the character, then we should be able to figure out if they are angry or just trying to be sarcastic or funny. I’m not saying to never use “he whispered” or “she snorted” or “he sang” but they get tiresome if they are used ALL the time. Not just the sames ones repeated over and over, but always expecting a verb to tell the reader how she/he should take the sentence feels just as Micah said–like you have your thesaurus in your hand. I usually use them when a character is doing something out of character. Or something new. Example: “Not the way I’d do it,” he sang. HE SANG denotes a cheekiness in your character. But I don’t need to let you know he’s cheeky if you’ve already written your caracter well. I should know if he’s cheeky or not. And if he/she is not normally cheeky, then this is a great spot to use SANG. Repeated SAIDS seem to be less obtrusive and let the speakers’ words speak for themselves–so to say. The SAIDS become like white noise, which is good, ecause they don’t slow the pace, but you also know who’s speaking, and that’s really the point. “He said” or “she said” or “John said” denotes who’s speaking… explaining how we should take what the character said should be redundant if the dialogue is writen well. This is all just my preference of course. I also hate long scenic descriptions just so a writer can describe something. These are 2 of my pet peeves. Active voice might be something to work on instead. Changing any boring verbs like “walk” or “fall down slowly” or “see” to more active interesting verbs like “strut” or “slump” or “scan” gives writing more oomph and isn’t distracting (unless you go into the purple prose). I’m going through my novel right now and editing for just this thing (as well as others), and it makes a butt-load of difference. Action, no matter how small or how intense, actually seems like action now. An EXCELLENT read on this and other strategies to make your writing sing is WRITING TOOLS by Roy Peter Clark. When I picked it up I thought it was a book from the fifties–the cover is that fifties green, a bit of a marketing error in my opinion–but it was written in 2006 so it’s fairly recent. And more importantly, the advice is phenomenal.

  3. I love this list! Thank you so much.
    Though it would have been a lot better if you’ve added at least a one-sentence definition for each word. That would be a lot more handy for other visitors.
    Thanks again ^_^

  4. Thanks a lot for this, it’s really helped me a lot. I was searching all over for something like this. Do you happen to know any website or something for vocal samples of these verbs?

  5. Thank you,I was looking for this for a crash-script writing.Very helpful.

  6. See my more recent updated list on the linked post. I have more to add, but I haven’t had time to update yet again.

  7. You’ve got an amazing list! Thank you so much for sharing it with us all!
    If you find any more, do tell!
    So very helpful. :)

  8. Thanks I was have such difficulty after almost 250 pages in with talking verbs. It felt so repetitive and my characters are smart and expressive. This list helps a great deal!

  9. I rarely use any of these words in my writing, but they are handy to have to stretch my vocabulary. I typically use action to show emotion as you illustrated. But sometimes one good word like “bellowed” gets the point across without a lot of extra description. I think when you have established a character and helped the reader understand their general demeanor, these kinds of words can help you establish a change in emotion or a new aspect of a character’s personality.
    Thanks for the comment!

  10. And of course for the more lengthy discussions, you need only start with a few instances of ‘Tom chortled,’ ‘Michele gasped,’ and ‘the dwarf pointed threateningly at Tom.’ (That’s another handy trick, to replace a talking verb with body language or actions that the speaking character does to accentuate the context of what they say.)
    Tom cleared his throat, “anyway, after you do that-”
    “-And give the reader a good feel for the sequence,” Michele interrupted.
    “Let them know who talks after the other,” the dwarf added.
    Tom finished in annoyance, “then you can simply divvy each person’s quotes into separate paragraphs as per usual without any other clauses or sentences.”
    “It can go on that way as long as you want.”
    “It works ideally with a conversation of two, though…”
    “Any more though and it quickly becomes difficult to remember who’s saying what.”
    “If you want clips of crowd-speak, then that’s not an issue, of course. I’m Michele.” c^3

    I’m sure someone can elaborate on this much more than I.

  11. Thank you for this . It will helped me to accomplish an assignment . I chose to write about verbs . I chose Talking verbs specifically . Everyone thinks I am going to fail . Gonna show them that I can kick ass at it .

  12. The problem comes when you have a character who always speaks quietly. Or one that tends to yell at people. Or you have four characters arguing all at once. “Said” turns into extra noise in the conversation.

    Currently, I have a professor who drones, a researcher who hollers, shrieks, and sputters, and a main character who groans and spits. This was primarily designed to jog my memory. My brain has gotten a bit mushy since graduation, and I needed a vocabulary refresher.

  13. Marvelous little list… though I feel obligated to point out something I learned back when I copy edited newspaper sports articles. Specifically, although grammatical diversity is great, *contrived* diversity is deadly. I would argue that a thousand straight “he said”s is far better than a thousand “he [whatever]“s, where [whatever] keeps changing to a different word each time. It can be distracting to the reader, and practically screams “I used a thesaurus!” Not that you’d ever dip to such amateur levels, of course. ;-)

    I also once heard a writer say that he obsessively tried to avoid ever saying “he said”. Ever. It is surprisingly easy to avoid if you can do a good job of providing context so that the reader can naturally deduce the speaker. I’m not quite so religious about avoiding talking verbs, though.

    And I certainly do appreciate it when someone snarls.

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