The following is a quote from Philip Pullman's 'La Belle Sauvage':

  • "It's a present for her," said Malcolm, and thrust it in among Lyra's blankets.

Now, to me, this sentence doesn't really parse, so I guess I'm looking for an explanation of why we can continue the sentence from a dialogue tag in this manner. If we replace "said Malcolm" with "Malcolm said", then it seems to make a bit more sense, because "said" is a verb, so it's analogous to "Kelly ran and jumped".

But what I'd really expect is something like "said Malcolm, and he thrust..."

What's going on here? Or is it just poetic license? It's not as if it will really throw the reader or anything. I didn't notice it the first time I read this chapter.

  • 1
    Welcome to Writing.SE! Since this is to do with analysing the grammar of an existing work of fiction, I feel like this is better suited to English.SE, and I'm going to migrate it there for you.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 14:59
  • 2
    There's nothing ungrammatical about not repeating a subject; Conjunction Reduction and Conversational Deletion are among the most frequently applied syntactic rules in English. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 15:17
  • ... ie "It's a present for her," Malcolm said, and he thrust it in among Lyra's blankets. ↔ "It's a present for her[,]" said Malcolm, and he thrust it in among Lyra's blankets. → "It's a present for her[,]" said Malcolm, and thrust it in among Lyra's blankets. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 15:26
  • I have more of a problem with << “Humbug!” said Scrooge; and walked across the room. >> I suppose I'd use a comma or ellipsis there. Fragments/deletions after a semicolon are pretty rare nowadays. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 15:58
  • This question about "said John" vs "John said" is somewhat relevant, although the answers aren't brilliant. The two forms are equivalent, and John is the subject of both (inversion of subject and verb is rare in English but not impossible). english.stackexchange.com/questions/67984/…
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 16:01

2 Answers 2


"Malcolm said" and "said Malcolm" are grammatically equivalent so there's no problem with Malcolm being the implicit subject of "and thrust it in..."

That said, it does read awkwardly. Literary agent Noah Lukeman, in his book The First Five Pages, comments that the "said he" construction is a bit archaic (and advises that authors pick one of "said he" and "he said" for dialog tags and stick with that for the entirety of the work. Also, as you noted, the implied subject in the second half of the sentence is a bit of a stumbling block.

It's been a long time since I've read Pullman, but I seem to recall that he was prone to writing in a bit of an archaic style, though, so this would be typical for his writing.

  • I'm not happy with << "It's a present for her" Malcolm said >>, though I find << "It's a present for her" said Malcolm >> unremarkable. And << Said Malcolm[,] "Hello" >> is of course unacceptable. So the statement in your first main clause needs refining (and, for an ELU answer, supporting evidence). //// the tag said John sounds vastly more idiomatic than said he. Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 16:39
  • Lukeman isn't meaning that authors would use the actual words "said he" so much as the grammatical construction of said [subject]. That said, I have encountered the literal "said he" on occasion in my reading since then. Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 4:52

A couple of points. First, the sentence needs to be read in the context of the story. Then, I think that Donald is correct I stating that Pullman's style in this story is deliberately archaic. More importantly, to my mind, is the way the sentence scans. Speak it aloud. Then substitute 'Said Malcolm' for 'Malcolm said'. It's lost the flow because the alliteration has virtually disappeared. The alliteration is on the letter 's'. In the original, the alliteration flows right through the phrase. If you reword it as 'Malcolm said'. the 'M' breaks the alliterative flow

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