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I was doing some creative writing and asked a friend to proofread it. They tell me they choked up at this point:

‘I don’t know,’ says Scott. ‘I’ll need to think about it.’

‘Let me know if you’ll come’, reply I, an insistent expression surely covering my face. ‘I hope you can make it.’

My friend claims that this is bad grammar, but I beg to differ. I usually take the post-positive subject after a quote; such has been how I have written all my life. I see ‘says Margaret Peterson’, ‘says she’, and other things as such following quotes in many books and newspapers. Is it truly wrong (or archaic) to say ‘say I’ or phrases related to it?

Edit: I hear ‘So say I’ as a statement, too. On the other hand, I never hear ‘So I say’, except in the case of ‘So, I say to him ...’ Would ‘So I say’ ever be used instead of ‘So say I’?

  • Yes. 'Say I' is archaic or deliberately quirky, and 'answer I' or 'reply I' sounds ridiculous. The use of the present tense is an additional style problem. ' "Let me know if you’ll come", I replied...' is standard. On the other hand, the third person usage with a noun rather than a pronoun is quite idiomatic in a formal register. Thus ' "It's a matter of idiomaticity rather than grammar," says Querk'. – Edwin Ashworth May 13 '16 at 14:16
  • @EdwinAshworth Of course, saying the use of present tense is a problem is topic for separate discussion; however, I would like to ask if you think that ‘said I’ is also ridiculous, or if being in the past tense it somehow becomes justified in its use. – K. Kyn May 13 '16 at 14:23
  • Edwin can be a little prickly, but do not take his comments as a criticism of yourself. He does this to all of us. And, by the way, he is usually right. :-) – Mark Hubbard May 13 '16 at 14:32
  • I agree with Edwin's comments. IMHO "I reply" would sound less weird than "Reply I". – TrevorD May 13 '16 at 14:35
  • @MarkHubbard No worries here, I’m not hurt. I take his word, and wish to know (after he said what he did about the present tense) whether his position on the post-positive noun stands with regards to past tense. – K. Kyn May 13 '16 at 14:40
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"So say I" (sometimes rendered as "so says I") is an idiomatic expression, it can't be taken as a general pattern to follow.

In general, when writing dialogue, your goal should never be for all the variations on "he said, she said" to stick out. They are there to perform a necessary function, but you want them to remain in the background.

Using an awkward construction like "reply I" does nothing but call unwanted attention to itself.

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