Grammar dialogue tags - Said Harry Potter – Harry Potter Said

How do you use dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags must be the most written about and discussed structure in a writer’s grammatical toolbox. One that I haven’t mentioned before as I didn’t want to join the long and probably never ending debate.

However, after getting close to finishing reading the third Harry Potter book, (yes I know I’m a bit late in doing so) I just can’t keep my opinion quiet any longer. I am also readying myself for brutal Vandal reader disagreement here, but I just don’t like dialogue tags with the verb before the subject, which J.K. uses almost without fail. Except when she can’t.

‘Let’s go,’ said Harry. Now grammatically and stylistically correct. But as an old English teacher, it grates on me. ‘Let’s go,’ Harry said. Now that makes me feel much better.

In my mind, a verb before a subject is used to form a question.

‘Said who?’ Harry asked, or asked Harry.
‘She did,’ said she.

Oh dear, this one can’t be inverted. Said she is a no no. So why is said Harry correct, but it becomes incorrect with a pronoun. Well, because it’s just like that, that’s why. Maybe it’s just me, but I like reading books that use subject – verb tags. Easier on the eye or something. ‘All right, enough said. Said enough,’ I said.

Except for adverbs!

Now I know they are considered a definite no-no in dialogue tags, but from time to time I like them. (Sorry Stephen King. I know what you’d say.) I know that ‘she said smilingly’ would get any editor’s red pen in a microsecond and rightly so but just from time to time I like them. If only to break up the ‘he said, she said’ pattern.

‘I have you now my little princess,’ he said wickedly. Then drove the dagger through her heart.

‘I like that!’ I said proudly.

Said Harry Potter – Harry Potter Said

28 thoughts on “Said Harry Potter – Harry Potter Said

  • 21/03/2018 at 4:40 pm
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    I think with the Harry Potter books we have to remember that the target audience is 10 year old kids who might be more easily confused than adults who happen to be avid readers and writers. Sorry about the adverb.

  • 31/03/2019 at 12:37 am
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    Hello, new here. I was wondering if age and category of book, such as chapterbooks, middlegrade books, young adult novels and farther on up, are taken into consideration when regarding dialogue tags? A lot of my favorite kids books use all the above mentioned tags to wildly varying degrees; said Harry, Harry said, Harry said angrily, said Harry angrily, and the sentence leading into the dialogue so that no tag is needed, Am I forgetting any? None of these seem out of the ordinary and to me, rather, they appear quite comfortable on the eye. For younger readers such as the age groups for the above mentioned categories, are these tags perfectly fine? And, where it’s considered unneeded, unnecessary or just wrong, are you speaking from a place of adult novels?

    Thank you!
    Daniel

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