VS in dialog

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Jan 6 05:56:08 UTC 2008

>He notes that both of the following constructions appear in English
>"'That's my car', said the Dutchman."
>"'That's my car', the Dutchman said."
>but has the impression that the former ("reversed-style") is more
>common in older texts, while the latter ("regular-style") is dominant in
>more recent works.

I have no idea which is/was more common. Both are frequent and
ordinary now AFAIK. I just glanced at a few recent novels and I saw
plenty of examples of both patterns ... as well as others, e.g.,
<<The Dutchman said, "That's my car.">>, <<The Dutchman said: "That's
my car.">>.

Some authors seem to avoid these formulae [almost] completely,
identifying the speaker (when necessary) by means of adjacent
material. E.g., <<"That's my car." The Dutchman's voice echoed
through the garage.>>, <<The Dutchman finally spoke. "That's my car.">>.

>[He's concerned specifically about "X said" vs. "said
>X".] He asks, then, the following questions:
>"a) is it strange-sounding or pretentious to use reversed-style dialogue
>markers, that is, something frowned upon in modern English? (Read:
>Don't do it.)

Generally: no.


(1) "Regular style" is usual with pronouns. <<"That's my car," he said.>>

(2) "Reversed style" seems more appropriate for a speaker identified
by a long expression. <<"That's my car," said a tall blond Dutchman
wearing a baseball cap.>>

>b) does it carry some sort of archaic feel, which arguably could be used
>in my story (that is, my Natives use the reversed form and the
>Newcomers the other), or would it just be confusing or seem as a rip-off
>of someone already having done exactly that as an
>informational/emotional carrier?

I believe it carries hardly any systematic feel at all in the
original example and ones like it. I suspect most readers of fiction
will not notice the difference at all (I surely don't).

>c) are there geographical differences related to this practice?

I don't know. Usually I don't know or care where a fiction author is
located ... or is from.

-- Doug Wilson

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