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Old 12-01-2017, 12:22 PM   #1
Steven Lake
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Asked vs Said

I seem to keep running into this big debate with my editors about when to use "said" and "asked" in a piece of dialogue. The way I seem to remember the rules (or were they just guidelines?) rules being:

1. If it's not a question, use "said."
2. If it's purely a question, use "asked".
3. If it's a hybrid of the two, use "said".
4. If it's mostly, but not entirely a question, use "asked".
5. When in doubt, and if it ends in a question, use "asked". Otherwise use "said".

So what do you guys think? Do you agree with the above rules, or is there a bit of wiggle room in there for which to use? Also, below are some examples where each rule would apply.

1. The tree down there is green.
2. Is the tree down there green?
3. This tree is green, but that one is not. Why is it here?
4. The dog is barking. Why is he barking? What is he barking at?
5. What time is it? We have to be downtown by 4pm!

So anyhow, that's my question. What do you guys think is the right answer here? Or forget thinking, what do the rules say? Is there a fixed set of grammatical rules, or just general guidelines for these scenarios?

EDIT: I fudged #2. Fixed.

Last edited by Steven Lake; 12-01-2017 at 06:18 PM.
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Old 12-01-2017, 12:40 PM   #2
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He asked her out. She said no.
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Old 12-01-2017, 12:50 PM   #3
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I'm OK with #1-#3

#4 is pure "wiggle room".

#5 depends...
If several sentences are in a quote that ends with a question then use "said" if it appears before the quote and maybe use "asked" if it appears at the end of the quote. If the first sentence is a question then use "asked" if it appears before or after the quote.

I'd add #6 - use "said" when a statement is made, but is worded as a question (e.g. a rhetorical question when you "answer" is actually expected).
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Old 12-01-2017, 02:09 PM   #4
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I don't think you can list sentences in isolation and look for hard and fast rules. What's the context? Do you need any attribution at all?

Generally I suppose you'd use "asked" if the punctuation immediately preceding in a question mark; otherwise, "said."
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Old 12-01-2017, 02:15 PM   #5
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There are no rules. It just how you communicate. Personally, I almost always use "said." It's, as they say, invisible to the reader. If I want to emphasize that it's a question I'll use "asked." Or for moderation's sake every once in a while I'll also use "asked."

For sure, don't stress about it.
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Old 12-01-2017, 02:23 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
Generally I suppose you'd use "asked" if the punctuation immediately preceding in a question mark; otherwise, "said."
That's the way I'd do it as well.

So for 2, 3 and 4 I'd use "asked"; for 1 and 5 I'd use "said" (although 5 ends in an exclamation mark so maybe you'd consider a more emphatic word than "said").

Anything else just looks weird to me.
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Old 12-01-2017, 03:57 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gregg Bell View Post
There are no rules. It just how you communicate. Personally, I almost always use "said." It's, as they say, invisible to the reader. If I want to emphasize that it's a question I'll use "asked." Or for moderation's sake every once in a while I'll also use "asked."

For sure, don't stress about it.
I agree. If it's got a question mark, then it's a question and the reader knows they asked, even if you say "said." I think we should be able to use "said" in all cases, but I'll use "asked" once in a while for variety. Since I record my stories, and "asked" is just a little more difficult, especially if you want to pronounce the "k," I probably use it a little less than I otherwise might.
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Old 12-01-2017, 06:22 PM   #8
Steven Lake
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Hmm, interesting answers. My question mostly comes from a bit of contention that comes from dealing with my editor who seems to have some pretty firm rules about what's allowed in this situation and what's not, of which I generally agree with, with a few obvious exceptions. But I just wanted to be sure that it was just their convictions and not actual hard and fast rules that I need to follow.
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Old 12-01-2017, 06:32 PM   #9
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As a reader, it bugs me if a straightforward question is followed by "said". Obviously there will be some instances where it's a judgement call. I would like to see "asked" after examples #3 and #4 and "said" after #5.
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Old 12-01-2017, 08:47 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
I don't think you can list sentences in isolation and look for hard and fast rules. What's the context? Do you need any attribution at all?

Generally I suppose you'd use "asked" if the punctuation immediately preceding in a question mark; otherwise, "said."
Very much this. Often the problem doesn't arise because you don't need the attribution. When it's clearly a question, ask it. The few instances where I have noticed that a clear question was "said" rather than "asked" it stood out as wrong. (But I have no idea how often it may have happened that I did not notice ... obviously.)
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Old 12-01-2017, 10:44 PM   #11
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I think that it's not so much a rule as a bit of common sense. If it's a statement then said would be the word. if it's a question then the person asks about it and if they are uncertain about something they may ask about it. Using the wrong one can be really jarring. Like using its when a person is supposed to use it's i.e 'Its getting late,' instead of 'it's (it is) getting late.'
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Old 12-02-2017, 06:39 AM   #12
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Agree that the most straightforward approach is to use "asked" when the preceding sentence ends in a question mark, and "said" if the sentence is not a question. Additionally, when "asked" is used I would use "answered" or "replied" by the character to whom the question was directed. If it is clear who is talking from the context, omit both to improve the flow.

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Old 12-02-2017, 11:23 AM   #13
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I love variety.

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Queried Questioned

But I would use 'said' for the rhetorical question.
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Old 12-02-2017, 11:42 AM   #14
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I agree with 'the Ducks'. The English language gives us a wealth of words for speech: why do we have to restrict ourselves to 'said' and 'asked'?

There might be an interesting debate to have about rhetorical questions:

'Steve's just won the lottery. He's got a million pounds!'
'A million pounds!' he said.

'Steve's just won the lottery. He's got a million pounds!'
'A million pounds?' he asked.

Could 'said' and 'asked' be used the other way round in these examples?
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Old 12-02-2017, 11:59 AM   #15
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I agree with 'the Ducks'. The English language gives us a wealth of words for speech: why do we have to restrict ourselves to 'said' and 'asked'?
Because generally the words should not call attention to themselves. Most of the time, the only reason for them is to indicate who is speaking.
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