Verbs of attribution

May 12, 2013 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: writing.

The following are some of the most common verbs of attribution used in writing news:

• Said is a word that connotes only the fact that words were spoken or written. It says nothing about the way the words were spoken, the circumstances of the utterance, or the attitude of the speaker. The word is a modest one, never calling attention to itself. It can be used repeatedly without disruption to the writing. Consequently, there are few real substitutes for said. There are words you can use in its place, however, when it is proper for you to do so.

• Explain means that more facts are being added to make something more understandable. It can be a neutral synonym for said, but it must be used in the right context. It is incorrect to write: “Bill Clinton is our current president,” he explained. It would be correct to use explain as the verb of attribution for the following sentence: “The presidency is the nation’s most important office,” he explained.

• Relate means to pass along facts. It implies an absence of opinion on the part of the speaker.

• Point out means to call attention to a matter of fact. A speaker can point out that grass is green, but a journalist should not write:“The majority leader pointed out that the president was tough in standing up to the communists.” That statement is opinion, not fact.

• State should be used for formal speeches or announcements such as the State of the Union address in January. It is incorrect to write:“Smith stated that the party would begin at 8 p.m.”

• Declare, like state, implies formality.

• Add indicates more facts or comment about the same subject or an afterthought, a comment less important than what has been said before. It is incorrect to write: “She said she was unable to finish her paper.‘My typewriter was broken,’ she added.”

• Revealed and disclosed are suitable only when referring to something that previously was unknown or concealed.

• Exclaim means to cry out in surprise or sudden emotion. It can easily be overused, so writers should be careful. It is usually written with an exclamation point. It is incorrect to use it in the following way:“The meeting will be at 3 p.m.,” she exclaimed.

• Assert also implies formality, but also an intensity on the part of the speaker.

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