We have added definitions of each word and an example sentence. Also, we have omitted hinted and insinuated, as we agree with fellow writers’ suggestions that they are not suitable additions to the list.
Instead of whispered, consider:
- murmured: A soft, indistinct sound made by a person or group of people speaking quietly or at a distance: “Don’t go,” he murmured, grabbing her hand as she turned to leave.
- mumbled: Say something indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to hear:“Thanks a lot,” he mumbled sarcastically.
- muttered: Say something in a low or barely audible voice, esp. in dissatisfaction or irritation: She muttered to herself all the way down the hall, reciting all her usual complaints.
- breathed: Say something in a quiet voice or whisper: “I love you,” she breathed, her eyes full of tears.
- sighed: Emit a long, deep, audible breath expressing sadness, relief, or tiredness; say something in a low or barely audible voice, esp. in sadness or irritation; to say exasperatedly, or all in one breath: “Right,” he sighed. “Well, just don’t do anything too stupid.”
- hissed: To utter with a hiss, esp. in instances that include one or more sharp sibilant sounds, as of the letter s: “Just stop,” she hissed, her grip on Lisa’s arm tightening.
- mouthed: To form (a word, sound, etc.) with the lips without actually making an utterance: “The baby’s asleep,” she mouthed, leading her parents back into the living room.
- uttered: To give audible expression to; speak or pronounce: He uttered a string of barely audible insults.
- intoned: Say or recite with little rise and fall of the pitch of the voice: “I’m not going anywhere,” she intoned. He could tell she was exhausted by the pitchless quality of her voice.
- susurrated: (susurration) The indistinct sound of people whispering: The room hummed with the soft susurrus of conversation.
- purred: To utter a low, continuous, murmuring sound expressive of contentment or pleasure, as a cat does: “I know you want me,” she purred into his neck, trailing kisses across his collar bone.
- said in an undertone: To speak in a low or subdued tone: “Not now, Jessee,” he said in an undertone.
- gasped: Say (something) while catching one’s breath, esp. as a result of strong emotion: She could hardly gasp out an apology.
- said low: (slang) Say something in a quiet voice or whisper: “Plants are more like us than you think,” he said low, as if he spoke to the lilies themselves.
- said into [someone’s] ear: Say something in a quiet voice or whisper, esp. near the listener’s ear, in such a way that only they may hear: “Meet me in the parlor,” he said into Jane’s ear, and her heart betrayed her with a flutter of excitement.
- said softly: Say something in a quiet voice or whisper: “I’m here now,” Usula said softly, brushing a lock of hair from her cheek.
- said under [one’s] breath: (idiom) Say something in a muted voice or whisper: “Over my dead body,” Jacob said under his breath.
- said in a hushed tone/in hushed tones: (idiom) Say something in a softened tone, or in a quiet voice or whisper: “Will he make it, Doctor?” Kendraasked in a hushed tone.
Thank you to everyone who reblogged this list to add their opinion. We have, with their permission, included some of these opinions so that you may benefit from their perspective.
memattbe adds: Whispered is the simplest and conveys what you mean by a whisper the best. Maybe murmured would be a good substitute if you just used whispered. Muttered, sighed, hissed, gasped, mouthed, purred, breathed, mumbled all mean things noticeably different than whisper. The said… ones aren’t bad, but one word is better than four.
ankh-the-odd adds:Also, don’t use alternate words for said.
It’s not boring, people’s eyes will just move right over the word said. If you use something else, you draw attention to it, and it messes up the flow of the text completely. You come to the end a bit of dialogue and then think “Woah okay what just happened.” It looks really unprofessional, tbh.
mumblingsage adds: I’ll just add that it’s always good to know a lot of not-quite-alternative words in case you ever think a character whispered, only to find out that they actually were murmuring it. The point is precision.
Or sometimes to avoid repeating words, but in that case you probably shouldn’t have a character performing the same action multiple times in a few paragraphs, or at least from continuing to remind the reader they’re doing it (if you state that a character is whispering, the reader will assume they continue whispering throughout the scene, until told otherwise).
And, um, if you thought your character was whispering and they’re actually susurrating…you might want to get that checked out.
There was another truly wonderful criticism of this list that is quite long, so we are including it in a Read More. Click below to see bobbyisrightthereyaidjit’s critique.
Whispering is saying something quietly.
Murmuring is quiet, often muffled (in fanfiction, usually against someone’s skin during a porn scene), or more emotionally loaded dialogue has just been used and the character doesn’t really want to say it out loud.
Muttering generally implies distaste.
Mumbling is either drunken, sleepy, or embarrassed and is not whispering.
Breathing out words generally only happens when it is absolutely necessary that no one hear. That, or porn.
You don’t sigh words. You can yawn and speak, but I have yet to meet a person who can sigh and speak at the same time. Until I can find proof of such a being, I will not be pleased by use of sigh or sighed as a dialogue tag.
Hissing means you are either part-snake, or you want someone’s attention, or you are angry and in a place where neither you nor your dialogue partner are allowed to be conversing.
Mouthing words generally is done from a distance and is generally a sign of foul play in the works. Otherwise, you are mouthing blasphemies and your lover’s name against zer skin.
Uttered? Uttered? Really? That is a synonym for said, not whispered, and is usually used with magic and doom, i.e. “He uttered the words of the exorcism with purpose: Exorcizamus te omnis immundus spiritus…”
Intoned is like uttered. Intoning is more forceful.
Susurrated? Honestly, if you use that in a piece of fiction for anything, ever, unless you’re using it to describe the sound angel wings make when they manifest onto the human plane, you fail. Just, you commit the sin of purple prose and need to go sit down. And Google Chrome doesn’t even recognise it as a word.
Purred is either for satisfied catpeople or for lascivious preludes to porn.
“said in an undertone”? Are you fucking kidding me? An undertone is, as should be made obvious from the fact that the prefix is under and the root is tone, the emotion underneath the words being spoken (e.g. “He smiled, but his next words had an undertone of intense disdain.”).
Gasping is like sighing in reverse, but I’ll let it pass…only when you’re gasping in surprise or because you’re being well-fucked.
You would never say said low. Perhaps you meant said lowly, but that’s also not a good alternative. Saying something lowly generally happens in fanfic porn with dirty talk.
I should hope that that “someone” in said into someone’s ear is a placeholder. A pronoun would have been more useful, but “said into his ear” does work, if your characters are in close quarters. Beware of unintentional UST, though.
Saying something softly usually means that it’s an emotionally charged thing being said. Or it’s the morning after porn.
Saying something under your breath is like muttering.
Saying something in hushed tones means that there are others around to hear what you are saying, and you don’t want them to.