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Something that refers to a breathless, quiet speech, not absolute silence like most synonyms for "dumb". Such as when someone is in shock or disbelief.

"I... I just saw her last week," he said dumbly. "She can't be..."

"Dumb" as a synonym for "mute" or "quiet" has bad connotations and I'm trying to avoid it.

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    I think that dumbfounded or stunned might work as a replacement for dumbly, but you'd probably also want to add a comma after said, to set the new word off.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 12, 2015 at 4:42
  • ... he said numbly. Feb 12, 2015 at 7:20
  • "dumbly", even in the sense of struck speechless, is certainly the wrong word, simply because he is talking! Apr 13, 2015 at 8:17
  • Personally I prefer your sentence as-is. Ignorance is not in itself necessarily a bad trait but a fact of life, and in fact your example demonstrates a speaker who is barely able to find the words to express himself as a result of a conflict with his ignorance. Thus, he is nearly rendered dumb (mute) and likely feels dumb (ignorant). However, I will support the question and an answer by voting. PS I also second the suggestion of "dumbfounded", if you think that softens it enough. Jul 4, 2017 at 18:40

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There are a few interesting options but most of them just describe the situation straightforwardly:

"I... I just saw her last week," he said, trailing off. "She can't be..."

"I... I just saw her last week," he said, growing quiet. "She can't be..."

"I... I just saw her last week," he said, suddenly whispering. "She can't be..."

"I... I just saw her last week," he said, breathlessly. "She can't be..."

"I... I just saw her last week," he said with a quiet gasp. "She can't be..."

But "muted" would really be the best single word option. A muted sound is:

muted — (of a sound or voice) quiet and soft

There are no overt negative connotations for "muted" when used on its own and it is extremely fitting for your scenario:

"I... I just saw her last week," he said with a muted voice. "She can't be..."

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You could use aghast -

"struck with overwhelming shock or amazement; filled with sudden fright or horror"

For example:

"I... I just saw her last week," he said, aghast. "She can't be..."

Apologies for any formatting errors as this is one of my first posts on the site.

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How about "speechlessly?" However, speechlessly focuses more on the feeling of shock and less on the volume of his voice. Perhaps rewording it to "he said in quiet disbelief" might be a more complete way to convey his state if you want to avoid "dumbly."

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I have sometimes seen the phrase "in a muted voice" used in this sense. For example, from Vercors, "The Silence of the Sea" in Life magazine (October 11, 1943):

He [the German officer quartered in a private home in Occupied France] played only the prelude [by Bach]. He rose and went over to the fire.

"Nothing is greater than that," he said in a muted voice which did not rise much above a murmur. "Great? . . . That is not even the word. Beyond man—beyond his flesh. That makes us understand—no; guess—no; feel . . . feel what nature is . . . divine, inscrutable nature—nature . . . divested of the human soul. Yes, it is an inhuman music."

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  • Incidentally (and off topic), Jean-Pierre Melville directed a superb film version of this story, Le Silence de la Mer (1949), that manages to be both a fascinating character study and a meditation on conquest, resistance, and humanity.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 28, 2015 at 22:57

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