Please consider the following sentence

"Oh my god, bad opening for the day", the shopkeeper ____ while seeing the trouble making customer and flashed a smile when customer approached him.

Which word of the below suits for the blank. Please find the words along with dictionary meanings:

Whisper= speak very softly using one's breath without one's vocal cords, esp. for the sake of privacy

Murmur = a soft, indistinct sound made by a person or group of people speaking quietly or at a distance

Mutter = say something in a low or barely audible voice, esp. in dissatisfaction or irritation:

Mumble = say something indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to hear

Seems to be all words are suitable for the blank.

  • Is the comment being made to someone else, or only to the shopkeeper himself?
    – user14070
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 20:07

5 Answers 5


Mutter is the only choice that implies the emotion we expect from the shopkeeper when he sees a customer he doesn't like.

The others would also work, but they don't imply the same negative emotion.

  • I was tempted to closevote as GR, given that OP actually cites a dictionary definition for "mutter" saying esp. in dissatisfaction or irritation. But, Hey! It's Christmas! Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 23:11
  • @FumbleFingers He does cite a dictionary, but he doesn't have a way of knowing that the others don't also have that connotation.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 23:14

I'd say "said under his breath"

"Oh my god, bad opening for the day", the shopkeeper said under his breath while seeing the trouble making customer and flashed a smile when customer approached him.


Of the options you offer, only mutter implies the emotion of annoyance. The others depend on circumstances.

Whisper implies a private communication; one does not generally whisper to oneself. It is appropriate if he was talking to a shop assistant, but it's neutral emotionally.

Murmur implies a background noise of communication. Again, it's only appropriate if the shopkeeper was talking to someone else. It does have an emotional feel, but it doesn't imply annoyance, it stresses the act conversation. It's usually more appropriate when talking about crowds.

Mumble implies that the shopkeeper meant to be heard and understood, but failed by not speaking clearly. Not relevant here.

Mutter is the best choice here, because it carries the sense of irritation and sarcasm.

  • As an aside, I think people sometimes mumble when they mean not to be understood.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 22, 2012 at 6:00

Would sotto voce be appropriate?

adverb & adjective (of singing or a spoken remark) in a quiet voice: [as adv.] "it won't be cheap," he added sotto voce | [as adj.] a sotto voce remark.

-origin from Italian sotto "under" + voce "voice".

  • Oxford Dictionary of English

sot·to vo·ce
adv. & adj. 1. In soft tones, so as not to be overheard; in an undertone: "There were aspersions cast, sotto voce, but knees quickly folded into curtsies when introductions were in order"

  1. Music In very soft tones. Used chiefly as a direction.
  • thefreedictionary/American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

edit I didn't realise that OP had written out the choices. I'd go with mutter or mumble; they seem the most appropriate.

  • Well, it is a pretty fancy term for saying something under one's breath.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 18:11
  • @tchrist, but one that the musicians would understand. :-) Commented Dec 22, 2012 at 2:16

The headline of the question says, “Right word to represent ‘speaking with low audible voice’?” All of those are the right words to describe speaking with a low, audible voice. However, given the context, I would say the best choice here would be whisper. Many others have chosen mutter since the customer was a trouble maker, but that doesn’t mean the shopkeeper muttered. The end of the sentence,

and flashed a smile when customer approached him.

would, to me, imply whispering had taken place. As a woman, I see this and do it a lot amongst other women. Example, when there is a woman I dislike in the perimeter, I may whisper to another one of my lady friends, “ugh … oh, my gosh, here she comes …”.

Can you also call that a mutter? Sure, I suppose so. But it was a whisper, in spite of how I feel towards the other woman. This can also apply to the shopkeeper. The problem here is that there is not enough information to know which action the shopkeeper took.

  • Isn't whisper usually used when conversing with somebody else in private? It seems like mutter makes sense here because people often mutter to themselves.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 22, 2012 at 5:57
  • We can't conclude the shop keeper muttered because not enough information is given about the surroundings. We don't know if he was speaking to himself or another party.
    – Androliyah
    Commented Dec 23, 2012 at 5:02
  • Also, assuming the shop keeper was alone, it could have also been a murmur instead of a mutter. As said before, not enough info is given to make a conclusion about this one liner.
    – Androliyah
    Commented Dec 23, 2012 at 5:03

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