Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett

The verb of attribution

Earlier I wrote that most of the time you should use said when reporting someone’s words. Said is the best verb of attribution.

Said is a wise choice of word for journalists. It is neutral and judgement free. This makes it a safe and accurate choice.

A simple word like said is readily understood and unambiguous — that’s always a sign of good writing.

You might choose something else if you’re writing poetry, literature or fiction. Yet for everyday writing use the simplest option. Your readers will thank you.

The boring trap

Don’t let anyone tell you that sticking with said makes your writing boring. Nor should you listen to those who tell you the word is overused.

It is less boring than sitting through a defamation action because someone misinterpreted an alternative word.

It is less boring than expecting your reader to look up the meaning of an alternative word.

Readers can misunderstand almost every alternative to said.

This is just between us

The term ‘verb of attribution’ is correct. Yet, outside of academic discussions about language, it is not the best phrase to use in your writing.

‘Verb of attribution’ is the kind of formal, technical language that puts readers off, even when they know what it means.