In real life, when a person has something private to say to somebody else, they tend to whisper it to them, to make it more difficult for the other person to hear.
In fiction, however, all dialogue is usually completely audible to the audience. That makes the few times when we don't know exactly what a person is saying all the more intriguing. As a result, an artist will sometimes use a whisper to add an element of mystery or ambiguity to a series. For this and other reasons, this trope is usually implemented near the end of a work.
Sometimes used as an Unreveal (when left ambiguous), other times as a Chekhov's Gun. Other times it begins as an unreveal, and becomes a Chekhov's Gun. This may also be used if one character needs to tell another something so obscene that the censors might be offended if it were spoken out loud.
Contrast Stage Whisper, which is clearly audible to the audience but not other characters.
- In Code Geass, CC's true name.
- In "The Real Folk Blues, Part 1" of Cowboy Bebop, Julia whispers something at Spike. We don't find out what she said until the end of the next episode.
- Subverted in Digimon Tamers episode 14: "Grow Mon Grow". When Terriermon whispers to Henry, the words are actually intelligible to the audience before Henry repeats them aloud to Takato.
- Played straight in Digimon Adventure episode 42: "Under Pressure", but only in the dub. In the original, when Izzy whispers his plan to Kari, some of his words are actually intelligible.
- Practically Once an Episode on Detective Conan, at the point where Conan figures out the crime and just wants confirmation before the big reveal.
- In Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, when Illya needs to restore Chloe's prana, normally done by kissing. When Illya begins to feel uncomfortable with kissing Chloe in a public place (technically a stairwell), Chloe points out there are other ways of restoring prana and whispers an unspecified example in Illya's ear when she asks for one. In the very next frame, Illya is huddled up in disgust, loudly declaring Chloe a pervert - indicating the method in question was very "adult".
- Bullseye in Punisher Max whispers something to Frank as they fight. Frank's reaction implies Bullseye was spot on in guessing what the last thing Frank's wife ever said to him was. It's revealed 5 issues later, but if you get a magnifying glass you can see Bullseye said "I want a divorce".
- In Y: The Last Man, Agent 355 whispers her real name to Yorick. It is never explicitly stated what the name is, though there are some hints that imply it was "Peace".
- In Spider-Man: One More Day Mary Jane agrees to Mephisto's terms for the Deal with the Devil but quietly whispers something to him before the deal is finalized. We find out what it was she said three years later (real time) in One Moment in Time.
- An interesting example, because fans magnified what she said...and it was DIFFERENT, from what it was in One Moment in Time. The two also had different authors.
- Near the end of Arbitrage, the main character whispers something to his daughter that we never hear. This was an improvisation by Richard Gere.
- Also, possibly referencing Lost in Translation (See below), in The Avengers, Scarlett Johansson whispers something to Jeremy Renner's character right before Loki is sent back from whence he came.
- Pepper also does this to Tony towards the beginning of The Avengers when motivating him to finish his "homework" quickly. Judging by the shocked, delighted look on his face and Coulson looking away in embarrassment, it was something quite dirty (though this scene also lent itself to some "Hail HYDRA" parodies a few years later).
- At the end of Lost in Translation, Bill Murray's character whispers something to Scarlett Johansson just before he leaves Toyko.
- In Donnie Darko, Donnie walks up to Roberto Sparrow and she stands on tiptoe to whisper, "Everything on this earth dies alone." Donnie's dad asks what she said and the scene cuts without revealing (until later). New viewers will almost always ask prior viewers what she said.
- Happens in the noir film Key Largo. Bacall's character, one of several people being held by the evil gangster in her own hotel, is being menaced by the gangster. He seems to actually notice for the first time how attractive she is, and so leans forward, bringing his lips to her ear... Cut to their silhouettes on the wall, his lips moving but with no words audible, background music rising—suddenly, she snaps, and slaps him across the face. We never know what was said, of course, but obviously it must have been horrible, and the viewer is basically free to set the perversion meter at just past their own tolerance level.
- In Not Another Teen Movie, Austin whispers into Janey's ear, causing Jake to launch into a hysterical confession. Austin then explains to Jake that what he actually whispered into Janie's ear was that Jake was about to launch into a hysterical confession, thus reaffirming everything he just whispered into her ear.
- In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country right after the bodies of Chancellor Gorkon's killers are found, Kirk takes Spock aside and they have an inaudible conversation. At the end Spock says, "Possible." It turned out to be an idea to lure the killers' killer out.
- In The Polar Express after Santa asks the main character what he wants for Christmas, he whispers his answer in his ear, one of the sleigh bells.
- Lolita. In the Stanley Kubrick film, Charlotte Haze whispers in Claire Quilty's ear regarding an evening they spent together (implied to be more romantic for her than Quilty, who like Humbert is a closet paedophile). In both this and the 1997 adaptation, Dolores whispers in Humbert's ear what she got up to with a boy at summer camp; in that case definitely implied to be sexual.
- In Ex Machina, Ava communicated something to Kyoko. We don't get to hear the exact words but it probably was something that prompted her to stab Nathan.
- In the final scene of Brick, Laura whispers something into Brendan's ear just before she's taken away by the police. When Brain asks what she said, Brendan tells him "she called me a dirty name", and Brain replies "Fine, don't tell me". The film leaves it at that, but the novella and shooting script reveal that she said "motherfucker", which is possibly meant to imply that Brendan was the father of Emily's unborn baby.
- In Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, Lucky and Wess take a moment to speak privately to one another by using ordinary sound waves, conducted through their spacesuits, so there is no risk of being spied upon. The narrator never tells us what Lucky says, but it becomes clear it has to do with the elaborate deception that Lucky pulls on everyone except Wess later in the book.
- In Wolves of the Calla, we're never told exactly what the 19-word sentence told to Eddie by the old man was, but we get the gist of it by the book's climax.
- Babylon 5:
- "The Coming of Shadows": The Centauri emperor whispers his Last Words to Londo after hearing how he and Lord Refa attacked and occupied a Narn outpost, even though the emperor had been trying to make peace with them. When asked what he said, Londo says, "Continue, take my people to the stars." When they're alone, Refa asks what he really said. "He said you and I are both damned." Refa isn't too bothered by it. Londo clearly is.
- In the episode "Interludes and Examinations", Morden whispers various things to different people in league with him on the station. We don't hear what's said, but the context of things that happen next tells us enough—so it's probably simply a device to indicate how covertly he must operate on the station at that point, since he's a recognized persona non grata there.
- In "Day of the Dead" Penn & Teller guest star as comedy Duo Reebo and Zooty. Zooty, Teller's character, always speaks through this little device and even his partner has only heard him actually speak once (he said, "Why?"). In the very last scene, Zooty comes up to Sheridan and whispers in his ear, pointing to his hat. Afterwards, G'Kar asks what he said. The answer: "Because it tells me to."
- Raj Koothrappali does this into Howard's ear on The Big Bang Theory every time he wants to talk but there's a woman in the room and he's not drunk. Howard translates.
Howard: Oh, he watches you from his car with high-powered binoculars.Penny: Oh my God! That is so creepy!Howard: I know! [Raj whispers] And he says he's not gonna stop! [Raj whispers frantically] Yeah, well, then see a shrink and figure out how to talk to women.
- Community has Troy do this to Abed when he leaves for air-conditioning repair school. When the rest of the group asks what he said, Abed tells them that Troy said, I know you hate when people do this in movies.
- In the Doctor Who episode where we first meet River Song, she whispers in The Doctor's ear and he says that she told him his real name even though he'd never met her before. In the series six finale, he then whispers something to her past self. It's later revealed that he didn't actually whisper his name, but for her to look in his eye.
- One episode of Legend of the Seeker had the Mord'Sith Cara trying to persuade a thief to come with them. She offers to do something which she whispers in his ear, causing him to become very excited.
- Just before Alice is Put on a Bus in Season 2, Episode 2 of Luther, she kisses Luther's cheek and whispers something to him.
- In the Season 1 Finale of The Walking Dead, Dr. Jenner whispers something into Rick's ear. What he said wasn't revealed until the finale of Season 2.
- The Twilight Zone (1985-1989). In the episode "Need to Know", hearing a certain phrase causes the listener to go insane. At the very end one of the two protagonists whispers the phrase in her partner's ear and drives him mad.
- Parodied on Community when Abed starts whispering his plan to his friends, the camera pans away, and Jeff pulls it back reminding Abed that he can't just pretend to say something and expect a whipcut to the enacted plan.
- Star Trek: Discovery: When Stamets asks Burnham to tell him a secret to prove the time loop the next time, she whispers something in his ear, to which he says, "I'm sorry." The secret: She's never been in love.
- Star Trek: Voyager. After Q spends most of the episode "The Q and the Gray" unsuccessfully trying to convince Captain Janeway to have a child with him, the captain suggests he instead do it with a female member of his species. At first they're outraged, but then Miss Q comes up with a suggestion that she whispers in Q's ear, causing him to chortle over how dirty it is. Janeway can't resist sneaking up for a peak, only for the two omnipotent beings to just touch their fingers, causing a flash that makes them shudder in delight.
Janeway: Is that it?Q: You had your chance!
- Rome. Cleopatra asks Marc Antony to recognise her son by Julius Caesar. Antony whispers his price in her ear. Cleopatra's response makes it clear what he asked is sexual, but she calmly states that Antony must fulfill his end of the bargain first.
- Lost Girl has the dramatic version (in "Ceremony") and the lewd version in "Con Faegion".
Bo: What's gotten into you?Lauren: Well nothing just yet, but I was thinking we could... (whispers in her ear)
- In 6x10 of Game of Thrones: Dying from the birth of Jon Snow, Lyanna Stark whispers the original name of her son in Ned's ear right before begging him to protect him from Robert Baratheon. You can only see her whisper "His name is..." before the camera cuts away.
- Blake's 7. In "Space Fall", the Number Two of the prison ship implies to Jenna that the voyage will be a lot more comfortable if she shares his cabin. She whispers her reply in his ear and gets cuffed across the face.
- In the play (and later movie) The Shape of Things, Adam and Evelyn whisper to each other in bed. Later when he discovers she's been videoing him for a class project, that is the only part of their relationship that remains private. The play ends with him watching that section over and over.
- Bravely Second: At the end, Magnolia whispers her real name in Yew's hear. The player doesn't get to hear it.
- In Heavy Rain, Ann whispers the name of her son into Madison's ear. It's significant because her son happens to be the Origami Killer; the player doesn't learn his name for a few more scenes.
- Knights of the Old Republic: Saul Karath in his last moments, whispers The Reveal to Carth Onasi in this manner. Carth doesn't take it well.
- Made a very interesting one, as the Player character is there for the reveal...but too far away to hear! So, the player character is left in the dark as much as the player themselves.
- In Tales of Berseria, Eleanor gives Laphicet a true name when she becomes his vessel, but the player isn't allowed to hear what she says. The name isn't revealed until the ending, with good reason: she named him Maotelus.
- In Xenoblade An injured Dunban is seen whispering something about the Monado to Shulk after the battle of sword valley. What he actually said is revealed not long after.
- Parodied in 8-Bit Theater after Red Mage gets the entire party thrown into an elvish prison. Another inmate agrees to give them information in exchange for some "dag". Thief's explanation is initially this, but Fighter immediately blows the secret out of the water, in case some readers didn't quite get it.
Thief: It's whisper, whisper, whisper...Red Mage: Perhaps I could negotiate the terms of our agreement.Black Mage: Ya think!Fighter: Psst! What does "situational homosexuality" mean?
- In Keychain of Creation, Misho summons the ghost of Secret's father and, as a parting thank-you/apology, whispers the true name of the Unconquered Sun to him. It's not revealed, but the ghost is laughing in delight as he fades away.
- In The Simpsons episode parodying 24, Skinner recruits Bart to spy on his behalf. Bart will only participate if Skinner will tell him a swear word he doesn't already know. Skinner whispers it to Bart (we never hear it).
Bart: Wow, that's a swear?Skinner: Used as a noun, it is.
- In the Justice League episode "The Enemy Below", Batman takes Deadshot aside to interrogate him:
Batman: Let me give you one word of advice...
(cut to Superman and Wonder Woman watching from the sidelines as Batman whispers something)
Deadshot: Okay! I'll tell; I'll tell!
Wonder Woman: (to Superman) What did he say?
Superman: You don't want to know.
- Parodied in the Futurama episode "Mars University":