Are Dialogue Tags Necessary?

Is it possible for your readers to know which of your characters are talking without using tags? i.e Mary said, John said, or Katie said.

I think yes.

Here are three reasons how it can be possible:

  1. If you know your character’s voice including word choice and vocabulary helps your reader decipher who’s talking. Knowing your character’s personality and style helps too.
  2. Your readers need to be AWARE of your character’s way of talking. This takes a while and is more likely to develop in the subconscious mind as the reader is halfway finished with your story. Getting your readers used to how your characters talk as well as how they behave develops the more the spend time reading about that character.
  3. Being aware of what your character would not say in their dialogue also adds to being able to identify him or her without a tag.


Guess who’s saying what

What you, the writer, knows: one man is highly educated, one woman is sophisticated

“Can you pass me that pen, please?”

“No. Here, use this pencil instead. You’re completing a packet of math problems and you will make mistakes.”

“I don’t make mistakes.”

“If you think that, you are a fool.”

Can you tell which person was saying what words? In truth, the sophisticated woman had the first line and the educated man had the second and it continued back and forth. I’m hoping it was easy to tell the two apart.

Try this one: one is a child and the other one is a perky woman


“It’s fun. Just try it. Run until you get to the slippery part and slide down on your belly. It’s called a Slip N’ Slide!”


“Why not? Wait here and I’ll show you. Are you watching? See…Weeee!”

“You’re silly.”

In this one the child had the first line and the woman had the second. Being able to show who’s talking without the use of tags can be done mostly by knowing how each of your characters talk.

I’m not saying not to use tags because we need all the “she said, he said, they said” to introduce who’s talking to our readers.

But I do not think writers should depend on tags alone to show who’s talking. The dialogue should be able to stand alone and speak for itself.

Word Choice

Mastering word choice is a vital part for showing who is talking rather than telling it at the end of the dialogue with a “Kate said” or a “Timmy said” ending. Different people can say the same thing in different ways that’s why knowing your characters is so important.

Each of your characters has different experiences, background, vocab, and personalities and each of those areas influence their dialogue and word choice.

What do you as a writer think about word choice showing who is talking? Do you use tags more often or word choice to show who’s talking? Share what you think about tags in the comments below. photo credit

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About the Author

Shaquanda Dalton

Hello, my name is Shaquanda Dalton and welcome to! I'm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and graudated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Creative Writing. I fell in love with writing at the age nine and love it till this day. :)