He Said, She Said: How to Avoid Using ‘Said’ in Direct Speech

Hi! How are you? I understand that most of you are busy revising for your common tests. I hope that you are taking care of yourself despite your busy schedules.

For this week, I am going to focus on the use of direct speech in writing, specifically on using more vivid verbs and adding an action or facial expression to the speech. I know that most of you must have been told to use direct speech in your compositions to make the action more interesting and the characters more real. However, some of you tend to write like this:

“You need to leave now,” Mary said.

So what can you do? Try following these two steps:

Step 1: Use vivid verbs

Avoid using basic words like ‘said’, ‘told’ and ‘asked’. Find a more precise word that tells the reader how the person expressed those words.

In the example, we do not know how Mary was feeling. Could she be angry or afraid? Let’s replace the word ‘said’ and see what happens:

  • “You need to leave now,” Mary snarled.

    Snarled’ tells us that she was angry.

  • “You need to leave now,” Mary whispered.

    Whispered’ indicates that she might be afraid or worried.

‘Snarled’ and ‘whispered’ are better words because they tell the reader how Mary was feeling at the time of speaking.

Step 2: Add an action or a facial expression


avoid using said in direct speech

After finding a better word than ‘said’, you can add an action to the direct speech. The action should further illustrate the character’s feelings. For example:

  • “You need to leave now,” Mary snarled as she pushed me roughly out the door.

    In this instance, the action further emphasises Mary’s anger.

Alternatively, you can add a facial expression. Similar to the action, the facial expression should convey the character’s feelings. For example:

  • “You need to leave now,” Mary snarled, her eyes lit up with fury.

    The phrase ‘her eyes lit up with fury’ indicates Mary’s anger towards the person she is speaking to.

Remember that writing well comes with practice, practice and more practice! Try these 2 exercises below:

Practice 1: Replace ‘said’ with a more appropriate word.

1. “I won first prize in the race!” Kumar said.

2. “Please help me. My leg hurts,” the little girl said.

3. “I don’t want to go to school,” Sue said.

4. “You have to finish your homework by tonight!” Mother said.

5. “I was the one who took your wallet,” my classmate said.

6. “That was the worst show I’ve ever seen!” the man said.

7. “Not this again! I’m so bored!” Jake said.

8. “Stop making so much noise!” the teacher said.

Practice 2: Try adding an action or a facial expression to these sentences.

1. “Why did you cheat in the test?” Father roared.

2. “I have lost my money and now I can’t go home,” my best friend sniffled.

3. “This is the best birthday present ever!” she squealed.

4. “I don’t think I can present my speech in front of all these people,” Billy muttered.

Check your answers and replace ‘said’ by filling up the form below:

Replace 'Said' and Check your Answers!

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I hope this post will come in handy when you are writing direct speech for your compositions. Till next time, take care!


Ms. Nora

Nora is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. She is committed to providing students with a dynamic and nurturing environment in which they can grow and develop. One of her greatest strengths as an educator is instilling a love for the English Language in her students.

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