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Does the subject/verb order make a difference when writing a dialog tag?

"The sky is blue," Joe said.

"The sky is blue," said Joe.

Is one preferable over the other? Does one emphasize the speaker (or the method of speech, such as shout) more than the other?

(Personally, I would use the second form to emphasize that Joe made the statement)

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Now I am earwormed with "I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night" - which is actually a pretty good example of the emotional differences among the 4 ways to write that simple sentence - Joe said x; said Joe, x; x, said Joe; and x, Joe said. struggle.ws/songs/usa/joehilldream.html –  Kate Gregory Nov 28 '11 at 14:40
    
@Kate Gregory: I think Alfred Hayes's poem (set to music by Earl Robinson later) is really just stylistic variations. I can't see emotional or other semantic nuances embodied in any particular inversion. But I do see significance in the fact that all permutations are present, and in most renditions the singer uses both present and past tense (said/says), giving a sense of universality and timelessness to the subject matter. –  FumbleFingers Nov 29 '11 at 22:00
    
@FumbleFingers I think "said Joe, I didn't die" is way more powerful than "I didn't die, said Joe". But poetry is personal. –  Kate Gregory Nov 29 '11 at 22:37
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

OP's second version is standard usage, which is why @Barrie calls it the "uninverted form". But note he's only referring to inversion of subject - verb (the object here being the quoted speech).

The most common structure for English sentences is subject - verb - object...

Joe said "The sky is blue".

...and the most common "sentence inversion" is object - verb subject...

"The sky is blue," said Joe.

There's nothing "ungrammatical" about object - subject - verb as in OP's first version, which may be prefered for stylistic reasons in some contexts. And least common, verb - subject - object is still perfectly valid English too...

Said Joe, "The sky is blue".

...but you'd normally only see this in poetic or other stylised writing, rather than in speech.

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I'm not a native speaker, but I can see this inversion being used in normal speech or writing, as a means to emphasize the fact that it was Joe, and not someone else, who said something. –  Hackworth Dec 2 '11 at 14:26
    
Nah - the standard version is the first one above, and if you needed to emphasise that it was Joe rather than someone else, that's what you'd use anyway - possibly with vocal stress (or italics in writing) to be really emphatic. The last version above is only poetic, and like the others, it implies no special emphasis in itself. Unlike the others, the last one is the only one where you couldn't lay stress on the word "said" to emphasise that Joe spoke, rather than screamed, or wrote, for example. –  FumbleFingers Dec 2 '11 at 14:47
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Both may be used after what is said, but only the uninverted form is normally used before what is said.

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Here is what Browne and King have to say in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:

Place the character’s name or pronoun first in a speaker attribution (“Dave said”). Reversing the two (“said Dave”), though often done, is less professional. It has a slightly old-fashioned, first-grade-reader flavor (“Run spot, run” said Jane). After all, “said he” fell out of favor sometime during the Taft administration.

King, Dave; Browne, Renni (2010-06-03). Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print (Kindle Locations 1120-1122). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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