Verbs of Attribution

The following is a list of different verbs that you can use to cite someone else’s words. Look through the list carefully to get a sense of what these different verbs imply. Each one is subtly different, and which one you chose have a real effect on your writing.

to say: to put a thought into words, verbally or in writing

to state: to say something flatly, as if it were uncontroversially true

to remark: to say something somewhat casually or off-the-cuff

to claim: to say something with the implication of making an argument (i.e., it could be wrong)

to propose: to offer a new idea or a new solution to an old problem

to assert: to say something firmly, as if it were objectively true, but within the context of an argument (i.e., there is some controversy or debate)

to argue: to say something in the context of a fully-formed argument (implies something that is very much up for debate)

to determine: to come to a conclusion based on evidence/logic

to demonstrate, to show, to illustrate, to display, or to indicate: to make an argument that explains itself fully; to explain an idea in application, usually by providing examples

to establish: to make a particular argument first, before anyone else, and have that argument become either widely believed or at least widely known

to prove: to use evidence/logic to show that something is objectively true; alternatively, to argue something so convincingly that everyone believes it to be objectively true

to explain: to make an argument in such a way that it is understandable to a reader/listener (implies that someone is teaching something)

to teach: to explain something with the intent that the audience understands (implies that the “lesson” in question is true, and it is the audience’s job to understand it correctly)

to clarify/to make clear: to make something understandable that was previously hard to understand (like “explaining” but after the fact)

to describe: to say something in detail such that you can picture it; to take a complex “image,” either literally a picture or a concept, and turn it into words

to indicate: to gesture towards an idea (implies indirect implications that have not been proved or are not provable)

to suggest: to imply something indirectly (this word works best when you are paraphrasing)

to purport: to make a claim (implies that the claim is weak or false)

to confirm or to verify: to check something independently from someone else and come to the same conclusion (implies objective truth or scientific proof)

to validate: to check something after the fact; does not imply objective/scientific proof but rather acceptability within a pre-existing rule structure (e.g., a valid legal argument)

to express: to say something somewhat personal or subjective, as if “speaking from the heart”

to expound: to speak about a subject at length and in detail (implies a bit of a poetic delivery)

to justify: to prove something that was thought of as practically or morally questionable

to rationalize: to argue for something because you want it to be true

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