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Does it sound strange to use the verb "to say" after a question?

For example: "'Why is it called a memorial?' said Laura."

If I were to have written this, I would have used "asked" instead.

Am I alone in feeling that it sounds a little strange with "said", or am I just imagining it?

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migrated from english.stackexchange.com Aug 27 '11 at 6:28

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

I think that "asked" is the proper term here, but I probably wouldn't mind if I read "said". – Gurzo Aug 25 '11 at 16:30
When I say "What are you, stupid?" to my son (18), I'm not asking a question, that is for sure. – JeffSahol Aug 25 '11 at 18:14

The most important part of telling dialogue is the dialogue itself, though many times people make a strong effort to think of "exciting" words to replace the word "said". Using a "fancy" word normally makes the phrase seem cluttered and unprofessional. It detracts from the actual dialogue.

"Said" in the context of the question is acceptable. It seems weird, but it is technically correct.

I like fictionwriting.about.com's description of what happens when someone goes too far with dialogue tags.

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thank you for this answer – ghshtalt Aug 25 '11 at 21:37
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is 'Creative License' at work. The author feels the question is more in the nature of a statement than in the nature of a question.

It can be any descriptor, and not just 'said'. It depends on what the writer intends to convey. For example:

'Why is it called a memorial?' said Laura'

Eliciting no response, Laura repeated, 'Why is it called a memorial?'

Infuriated at the nonchalant disregard, Laura shrilled 'WHY IS IT CALLED A MEMORIAL?'

But to answer your specific question: no, it isn't always Ok to use 'said' after a question.

A question can be said, asked, sputtered, gasped, wondered, interjected, whispered... it really depends on the context.

Is the usage 'correct'? Yes. Is it good writing? You're the judge.Its hard to say with just one line in isolation. Perhaps a few preceding and following lines from the same excerpt (if it is an excerpt) would have helped establish the context better.

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Just in case you're curious, this is a line from Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. I didn't include an excerpt since she does this repeatedly throughout the text and it always stands out to me... – ghshtalt Aug 25 '11 at 19:08
OK. I'm second-guessing here since I only saw the wiki but haven't read the book, but it seems reasonable to use 'said' rather than 'asked' if Laura is being referenced throughout the book posthumously, that is, through a flashback. This is, of course, subjective. If this is the case, it is also a 'Freudian' clue to the observant reader-like you- that Iris, and not Laura is the true author of the book. – user11761 Aug 25 '11 at 21:07
Sorry, the comment above is not exactly lucid. What I meant was, the usage you're referring to could possibly be an intended, or unintended, 'Roman a clef'. – user11761 Aug 25 '11 at 21:23

Am I alone in feeling that it sounds a little strange with "said", or am I just imagining it?

No, you're not alone. "Asked" is more natural sounding, although "said" is technically correct.

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It's a matter of prose style, not language or grammar. Said is neutral enough to use in virtually any context.

I saw an interview with a famous writer, I think Carl Hiassen, where he gave a number of rules for writing good novels, and one of them was (to paraphrase) "never use any verb other than say for dialogue" - the idea being to let the dialogue carry the sense.

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