There are many verbs in English that describe speech. If you want to describe a conversation in a more dynamic way, you can choose verbs with more specific meanings than “to say”, which simply means to speak. This is useful if you want to create a varied narrative, in writing, or if you just want to add more variety and depth to your speech. For example, instead of “He said,” we might say “He exclaimed,”, “He noted,” or “He interjected,” – all to describe something that was said, but in a different manner. Here is a quick list of alternatives you can use, with explanations and examples:
Simple and flexible, for questions. There are many different ways to ask questions which can be framed with different verbs, to ask is the most universal and neutral.
“Where is my watch?” she asked.
To respond is a very general verb that can be any response, so when we use it to describe speech it merely means that what was said was in reaction to something else. There are many possible types of response someone can make, including non-verbal, so it is a verb that can also be used a lot outside this context.
They said he looked very clean. He responded “I just washed my hair.”
An answer generally followings a question or some form of problem that needs to be addressed. Like respond, it must be in reaction to something, but it more specifically relates to questions.
“Where are you going?” her mother asked.
“Out!” she answered.
A reply is a form of response, which again is used in reaction to something. It is less general than response, however, usually suggesting a verbal response (something using words). So you may respond by nodding your head, but that would not typically be considered a reply.
“Are you eating dinner with us tonight?” the concierge asked.
“No, I will buy something in the market,” Linda replied.
A request is more specific than simply asking; to request is to ask for something to be done or to be given – which could mean asking for an action, or to receive an object. It is a fairly polite, formal verb.
I requested a different room at the hotel.
In contrast to request, demand is a forceful way to ask for something to be done or given. It suggests aggression and authority.
“Give me my boots back!” she demanded.
In creative writing, it can be useful as a way to describe asking a question, as someone demands the answer forcefully, rather than merely asks for it.
To enquire is a formal, polite verb, used for asking about information. (Not to be mixed up with inquire, which means to perform a formal investigation.)
“Which office is Mr Brown in?” the postman enquired.
To suggest something is to highlight it as a possibility, to introduce an idea – usually a solution to a problem.
“What if we paint the door brown instead of red?” Billy suggested.
We use note to show something is said simply, factually – neutrally. It removes agency from what is said, for example to show something is being pointed out without any particular emotion. (And, similarly, you can use ‘to point out’ in the same way.)
“Ah, that’s the wrong cheese,” he noted.
To interrupt is to say something that cuts off another speaker or action, so it used when someone starts speaking, for example, mid-sentence.
“Every triangle has four sides and-” the professor was saying.
“Excuse me,” the student interrupted, “But I think you’ll find triangles have three sides.”
Less abrupt than interrupting, interjecting offers additional information between points. It may or may not cut someone off (interrupt), but it’s usually lighter, and more for positive comments (though of course it doesn’t have to be).
“We’re going to France,” Paul was explaining.
“On a boat!” his girlfriend interjected.
12. Reveal (divulge)
To reveal is to say something that offers new information, which is useful if you want to be dramatic. Like a number of verbs here, it does not necessarily relate to speech, but in the context of saying something, it is to provide new information. For a more formal, polite version, you could also use to divulge.
“I like dogs more than cats,” she revealed suddenly.
An exclamation is something said suddenly and boldly, often in surprise. To exclaim is therefore useful as a shocked response, demonstrating a loud reaction.
He looked in the box and stood up quickly, exclaiming “We’ve run out of marshmallows!”
14. Shout (yell)
To shout is to say something in a very loud voice, for instance the way football fans tend to communicate during a game. To yell is similar, but can seem slightly more extreme.
“Come back here with that painting!” the guard shouted.
15. Scream (shriek)
A scream is like a shout, something at the top of the voice, but is more specifically high-pitched, and usually the result of some desperate fear. Shriek is an even more extreme version. Screams and shrieks are not necessarily verbal, but can be used with words.
“It’s a spider!” she screamed.
16. Joke (laugh)
To joke is to say something in a light way, not to be taken seriously. We can also laugh to describe this kind of speaking, though it implies speech mixed with laughter.
“Nice weather for ducks!” he joked, watching the rain.
To claim, in speech, is to say something that the subject is presenting as true. Using a word like this suggests that there is some doubt about what is being said.
“This watch is worth £500,” the shopkeeper claimed. I did not believe him.
To snap is to say something in a short, aggressive manner, usually as an angry response.
“I cleaned the dishes,” he claimed.
“I can see they’re still dirty!” she snapped.
19. Mumble (murmur)
Mumbling is speaking in an unclear way, where words are not properly pronounced. This usually means when the speaker does not open their mouth properly, or speaks too quietly. An alternative is murmur, which refers more to speaking quietly.
“I’m sorry,” Jim mumbled.
“Speak clearly!” the teacher snapped.
“I said I’m sorry!” Jim shouted.
To whisper is to speak very quietly, normally when you do not want to be heard.
The couple crept through the hallway. Her shoes squeaked. Fred whispered, “Shh, you’ll wake up the kids.”
21. Complain (grumble)
To complain is to disagree or express disappointment with something, so is usually used in a negative sense. Grumble may be used similarly in speech, to express a complaint made in an unclear (often miserable) way, like mumbling.
“This isn’t the milkshake I ordered,” the girl complained.
If you have any questions, or examples of more alternatives to the verb to say, do let me know in the comments below!