Should the sentence be: "What is this?" The man demanded. OR "What is this?" The man said demandingly.

I was under the impression that you needed to have 'said' in the sentence for it to be proper. You couldn't just have demanded. Is this correct?

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    You should not be capitalizing "the", since the "tag" is not a separate sentence, but a continuation of the sentence containing the quote. – Hot Licks Mar 21 '19 at 1:13

There is nothing wrong with the first version. It is quite usual to find other ways to write "said" which give added information about the tone.

"Tell me where you are," she pleaded.

"I haven't got any money," he whined.

"Go now!" she shouted.

Your second sentence is rather clumsy, but you can use an adverb if there is no suitable verb.

"Where is the file?" he asked slyly.

"It wasn't me," he said nervously.

"How much do you earn?" he asked rudely.

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The short answer to your specific question is in two parts:

  1. You do not always need to use said.
  2. While you can say a word, you can't demand a word. So, demanded, strictly speaking, is not a semantically viable tag.

Having said that, the first thing about dialogue tags is that they are mostly more a matter of style than of grammar. So, different people will have different opinions.

But there are some general observations.

You generally want to use dialogue tags that are invisible. In other words, you don't want the tags you use in the middle of speech to distract from the speech itself. The reason that said is used more often than any other tag is because that's just how it's come to be—and, since that's true, nobody pays attention to the use of the word; when you read said, you don't normally process it consciously.

Compare these two sentences:

"What is this?" the man said.
"What is this?" the man screamed in frustration.

The second version is a tag you don't normally see. Because it's so unusual, it stands out and takes you out of the smooth flow of the story. Sometimes this can be used for an explicit and specifically intended effect. But most people would say to avoid something like that unless you really do want to make an exception. If you use it all the time, it will become annoying—because readers will find themselves constantly distracted.

In addition to said, there are other a couple of other tags that can also be used somewhat routinely, although not normally as often: asked and replied. They are (obviously) used only when questions are asked or answered—but they don't always need to be used, or even ever used at all. However, using them is not unusual.

Even with said, you don't want to overdue it. If every paragraph of dialogue includes that tag, it can become repetitive—and what is normally invisible becomes noticeable. Dialogue tags are only used to make it clear who's speaking. If that can be conveyed without them, then you don't need to use them.

For example, suppose there are only two people, Mary and John, in a room:

Mary turned to him. "Don't be stupid, John. That's just—" She didn't know what to say next.

No dialogue tags were used because the context, actual speech, and surrounding narrative make it clear who is saying what to whom.

When you do use a dialogue tag, make sure that it's semantically correct. It's often easier to tell if an action word is even a possible dialogue tag if you reverse the sentence:

✔ She said, " . . . and then the frog turned into a princess."
✔ She whispered, " . . . and then the frog turned into a princess."
✘ She shuddered, " . . . and then the frog turned into a princes." [You can't shudder words.]
✘ She laughed, " . . . and then the frog turned into a princess." [You can't laugh words.]

If you want to express laughter, for instance, you have to turn it into an adverb, an aside, or dispense with the dialogue tag altogether:

" . . . and then the frog turned into a princess," she said laughingly.
" . . . and then the frog turned into a princess," she said, laughing.
" . . . and then the frog turned into a princess." She laughed. "Well, that's what I heard anyway."

This actually is one of the few instances where it's more about grammar (at least semantics) than it is about style. Although some authors will use dialogue tags that are, strictly speaking, wrong. Hopefully they are making a conscious decision to do so—again, for stylistic effect—rather than not understanding.

For example:

❔ "Leave me alone," I implored.

You can't implore a word. So, strictly speaking, this isn't a tag that should be used. I might use it anyway, but hopefully there'd be a specific reason for me to do so rather than to rephrase it:

"Leave me alone," I said imploringly.
"Leave me alone," I whispered, imploring her to stop.
"Leave me alone." All I could do was implore her to stop.

Nonetheless, this is one of those tags that people do seem to use more often than they strictly should. Because of that, it's not unusual to see it. It's one of those things that, in grammar, would be considered technically incorrect, yet still idiomatically okay.

Let's return to an earlier point:

"What is this?" the man said.
"What is this?" the man screamed in frustration.
The man screamed in frustration. "What is this?"

This third sentence conveys the same meaning as the second sentence—except that no dialogue tag is used. Because we don't read the man screamed in frustration, it doesn't interfere with the normal flow of dialogue—but the action itself is still described. Also, thinking again of sentence reversal, while you can easily say the words "What is this?" it avoids the somewhat strange concept of screaming in frustration the words "What is this?"

So, at least in a standalone sentence, you can use whatever dialogue tag you want—so long as the tag is a verb that is applicable to the expression of words. Can you insinuate a word? No. Then it's not a proper tag. Can you shriek a word? Yes. Then it's, at least semantically, okay to use.

That aside, you need to look at the tags you use in the context of the overall piece of writing. While a tag may not be wrong, it may not be appropriate either. So long as you are conveying what you want to convey—and the tags you use don't interfere with the smooth flow of dialogue (unless that's the intended effect)—then you are fine.

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