Dialogue Guide Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In reported speech, a dialogue guide serves to identify the speaker of directly quoted words. Also known as a dialogue tag. In this sense, a dialogue guide is essentially the same as a signal phrase or a quotative frame.

Dialogue guides are usually expressed in the simple past tense, and they are customarily set off from the quoted material by commas.

In the context of small-group communication, the term dialogue guide is sometimes used to refer to a facilitator of group discussions, or to a booklet that provides advice on fostering communication between individuals.

Examples and Observations

  • "It's a polite Chinese custom to show you are satisfied," explained my father to our astonished guests.
    (Amy Tan, "Fish Cheeks." Seventeen magazine, 1987)
  • "I'm here," she said, "because I'm a taxpayer, and I thought it was about time that my boys have a look at those animals."
    (Ralph Ellison, "On Being the Target of Discrimination." The New York Times, April 16, 1989)
  • "Look at these," the man from Kentucky said, holding up a rib. "You could take these home and use them to make a skeleton."
    (Susan Orlean, "Lifelike." The New Yorker, June 9, 2003)
  • “'He doesn't want Dijon,' he insisted, waving the waitress off. 'Here'—he shoved a yellow bottle of French's mustard in my direction—'here's some mustard right here.'"
    (Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope. Crown/Three Rivers Press, 2006)
  • "Never," said Elie Wiesel, "never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed."
  • "We gotta call the newspaper," a doctor said.
    "No," Werner said. He looked straight ahead, not at any of them. "I just want you to sew me up."
    (Jo Ann Beard, "Werner." Tin House, Fall 2006)
  • "Once Steinbrenner said to me before an Old-Timers Game, 'Get your ass down there and manage the team.'”
    (Robert Merrill, quoted by Curt Smith in What Baseball Means to Me. Hachette, 2002)
  • The Function of Dialogue Guides
    "We use quotation marks to identify certain material as an accurate, word-for-word report of someone else's speech or writing. A representation of speech usually has two parts, a dialogue guide identifying the speaker and the quote itself: 'I got it down from five to three minutes,' Mr. Brennan said later of his feat."
    (Scott Rice, From Reading to Revision. Wadsworth, 1996) 
  • Elmore Leonard's Advice on Reporting Dialogue
    3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
    The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
    4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said” . . .
    . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs."
    (Elmore Leonard, "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle." The New York Times, July 16, 2001)

Alternate Spelling: dialog guide

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Nordquist, Richard. "Dialogue Guide Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/dialogue-guide-reported-speech-1690447. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Dialogue Guide Definition and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dialogue-guide-reported-speech-1690447 Nordquist, Richard. "Dialogue Guide Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dialogue-guide-reported-speech-1690447 (accessed March 30, 2023).