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“Why do you think it was him?” Mary asked.

“Why do you think it was him?” asked Mary.

Since both options are common in books, I’m sure they both are perfectly correct in terms of grammar. But is there any difference in undertone or something? Or the two options don’t differ from each other at all, and it’s just a matter of preference of the author?

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  • No difference at all. – Lambie Mar 24 '18 at 19:08
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There is essentially no difference at all. Mary is the subject (S) and the verb (V) is "asked". The "normal" order is S-V-quote. But inversions are also possible with essentially no change in meaning: speech-S-V or speech-V-S.

In narratives, especially novels and short stories, when the reporting clause comes second, we often invert the subject (s) and reporting verb (v)

(source: Cambridge dictionary)

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    I've added a clarification in an introductory paragraph. – James K Mar 24 '18 at 20:25

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