For Jeff: Said I or I said?

>> Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jeff King asked: When should I use Jeff said or said Jeff? I use Jeff said when adding an adverb after, like so. "I am right" Jeff said reassuringly. And when I am not I use this “I am right” said Jeff. Does it matter either way? Is there a rule of thumb to follow?

Jeff, I have no idea. Fortunately, there's at least one wonderful copy editor who follows this blog who might chime in.

However, here's what I do. Generally, I use XXX said (and, yes, I use saidisms if I think they work better). For some reason, it generally works for me better. However, there are times when it doesn't, when it doesn't flow right.

To date, this has often corresponded to times when someone is speaking a bit more formally or, if someone consistently speaks formally, I might make it the norm for that particular characters. It feels more traditional to me, a little more distanced.

But I don't do it consciously, I don't think, and I don't know about a hard and fast rule.

Anyone else have some input on this?


  • Jeff King

    thx for your input... and if anyone knows if it realy matters either way, i would be thankful

  • Shakespeare

    I have absolutely no knowledge of any difference in this. I think the reversed order is perfectly acceptable, whatever the context. The meaning of English sentences is largely determined by word order (unlike German, for instance), but whether subject or verb come first, at least in this case, is immaterial.

    Do it in other instances, though, and one may find oneself talking like Yoda. (Then again, if one is writing fantasy, perhaps that course is not a bad one.)

  • Stephanie B

    When saying what I personally did, I didn't mean to imply that those were rules. It's just my own personal style.

  • Boris Legradic

    I can't really think of much of a difference, except that I feel '... Jeff said' would maybe work a bit better in an ongoing dialogue than '... said Jeff' But it's not something I've really noticed or thought of before, so from my (non-native speaker) perspective there is no difference.

  • Patricia Rockwell

    I was trying to think of another verb (other than "said")in English where the subject commonly follows the verb and I can't (that doesn't mean there isn't one). In other words, I can't imagine someone saying "jumped John" rather than "John jumped." There must be some. Can anyone think of any?

  • JD at I Do Things

    I am a copyeditor! Tho perhaps not the "wonderful" one Stephanie was referring to. Regardless, I've never even thought about this, but as far as I know, there's no rule. Whatever sounds more appropriate in the context.

  • Stephanie B

    JD, you are at least one wonderful copyeditor and don't think differently!

    Patricia, the first thing that came to mind when you asked your question was "Quoth the raven..." - but that's just a variation on "said." Having said that, dialog is one of the few places where the object of the predicate (i.e. what someone is saying) can come before the subject and verb. Makes you wonder if the sentence structure of dialog is a leftover of one of the many other languages that helped build English.

    The other thing that came to mind were some nursery rhymes that have the structure like "Old King Cole was a merry old soul and a merry old soul was he" because he must be the subject of the second phrase or it would be "him."

  • Phyl

    From what I've seen, it really just depends on what sounds better to you on each occasion. I have this vague notion that "said Jeff" might sound a bit better following short and pithy comments, with "Jeff said" being better after longer bits of dialogue. But that may mean nothing.

  • flit
  going to have to pay attention to this now

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