Follow TV Tropes


Stage Whisper

Go To

A common occurrence with regards to Acoustic License.

In Real Life, when people whisper, it is being done to conceal information from others and so is noticeably quieter and typically conducted away from prying ears. In works, however, this would be impractical, as it would hinder the audience's ability to hear the dialogue and understand what was going on. Enter the Stage Whisper, where a character will pretend to whisper, typically by covering part of their mouth with their hand, lowering their voice slightly, talking more slowly, and/or switching their tone to indicate as much. This allows the audience to understand that the character is "whispering" while still being able to understand the character delivering the line.

While this trope is typically used by a character wishing to conceal information from other characters, it can also be used to add emphasis to particular lines delivered before key events or to create a feeling of sorrow or regret by the character delivering the line. Further, when works are trying to indicate that the voice is a character's internal dialogue, they may rely on this trope.

Commonly Played for Laughs in modern films by characters who will make overly-loud whispers that are easily heard by the other characters on-stage that were meant to not hear it. Also, very common in romance films to set the appropriate tone.

Compare Little "No" and Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene. Contrast Pose of Silence. Fake Loud is an inversion; a noise that conveys loudness without actually being loud.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Spy X Family: In "Yor's Kitchen", Franky and Loid are shown having a loud argument in a very public setting as Franky tries to get Loid to help him ask out his crush. No one is reacting to their conversation, however, and a subtitle appears to directly state that, in actuality, they are whispering.

    Films — Animated 
  • Aladdin: The Genie adopts one when telling Aladdin "Your line is: I wish to free the genie."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Die Hard: McClane must whisper into the radio most of the time to avoid detection, but it is nicely amplified for the viewers.
  • Donnie Darko: Much of the film's starting and ending narration in conducted this way.
  • Glengarry Glen Ross: Much of Moss' conversation about robbing the firm is conducted through whispers.
  • In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, the pair is given a ride by a downright terrifying redneck. His pickup truck doesn't have any back seats, so all three are riding literally inches away from each other. Despite this, Harold and Kumar start whispering to each other about whether or not the man plans on killing them, the erupting pustules on his neck, and finally, whether or not he can hear them talking about him. Several moments of awkward silence later, the man says nonchalantly, "I can hear everything you said", followed by more awkward silence.
  • In Into the Woods, the Wolf whispers a few lyrics of "Hello, Little Girl" in the creepiest, most unsettling way possible.
  • Notting Hill: Near the end, two of the character share quick, whispered moment at the dinner table that is clearly audible to the viewers.

  • Harry Potter
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: When Dean Thomas complains about exam results being sent home during the holiday meaning he'll have to worry about them during it he is said to do so in a loud whisper. Probably due to the only person in the room he may not have wanted to hear him being McGonnagal and even she was unlikely to rebuke him over it that year seeing as she'd just asked them not to intentionally fail or get caught cheating just because it would reflect poorly on Umbridge in a way that implied she'd understand if they wanted to.
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Used when Romilda Vane invites Harry to join her compartment and her insult to Neville and Luna is actually described as being "in a stage whisper."
  • Played with in The High Crusade where the aliens bargaining with the humans don't realize how good human hearing is, leading to them having frequent whispered secret discussions that the humans exploit to the fullest possible extent.
  • Played for Laughs early in Deryni Rising. Morgan is checking his aide Derry's injury when he is rudely interrupted by a whip-wielding giant-sized Connaiti mercenary announcing "His Loftiness" the Supreme of Howicce. Morgan stops Derry from retaliating (noting the giant was accompanied by six more just like him), but cannot resist indulging his sense of humour. When Derry asks, "By all the devils in hell, what is a Supreme of Howicce?" Morgan replies in a penetrating stage whisper, "I'm not certain. I don't think it's as high as a Quintessence or a Penultimate. Probably some minor ambassador with delusions of his own importance." At a glare from the last of giant mercenaries, Morgan puts on an innocent expression, but once the party has proceeded down the street, he discreetly uses his powers to entangle the whip-wielder's whip round his horse's legs, bringing down both man and beast and forcing the Connaiti to cut the whip to rescue his horse.
  • In the Discworld novel Going Postal, Moist deliberately uses this technique at one point to cause maximum inconvenience and embarrassment to his conversational target.
  • Time for the Stars. The twin protagonists use a 'prison speak' stage whisper to prevent them from being overheard. Turns out they've actually been using Twin Telepathy and not realised it; when their stage whispers are recorded and played back to them, they realise they can't make out what the other is saying.
  • In the Ciaphas Cain novel, The Last Ditch, a young commissar gets into an argument with Colonel Kasteen over the proper approach to fighting an Ork invasion. When she questions Kasteen's fitness for command, Cain's aide Jurgen offers to serve as his second in a duel "in a confidential undertone which carried to every corner of the table." This is a Call-Back to The Traitor's Hand, where Cain challenged another commissar who'd insulted the colonel.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrested Development: George Sr. shares one noticeable one with Michael in the prison waiting area:
  • Originally played straight on Psych, but as the seasons went by they were more prone to subversions.
    • Shawn and Gus would often turn around to whisper to each other about something that just happened, how they can possibly get out of this dangerous situation, or what kind of tacos they should get after they solve the case.
    • Lamp Shaded in one episode where a pair of older expies for the duo do the same thing and are clearly audible to Shawn and Gus 10 feet away.
      • "Can people hear us this clearly when we turn around and whisper?" "God, I hope not..."
  • From Friends, Joey and Chandler are having a conversation, when Joey lets slip he knows Chandler and Monica are having money problems. To cover up the fact that Monica told him this secret, Joey quickly spins a lie about figuring it out on his own. As soon as Chandler buys into the lie, Joey, still sitting the exact same distance away and barely lowering his voice at all, says to himself, "That's the fastest I've ever thought!" Chandler doesn't even seem aware that Joey's said anything at all.
    • Probably looks out of place because Friends normally makes liberal use of Inner Monologue.
    • Frequently Friends characters undergo a downplayed version of this trope, where groups of characters standing in two different parts of a very small kitchen space are treated as if their conversations are completely distinct and no one can hear what someone in the other conversation is saying.
  • Frasier's kitchen has no door separating it from the living room, and part of one of its walls is just a stack of shelves open to both the living room and the kitchen, offering no real barrier to sound. But when two characters need to have a private conversation, they need only step into the kitchen and speak normally, and it's guaranteed that no-one in the living room will overhear them.
    • Slightly justified, but not really, by the fact that when the camera is in the kitchen the audience cannot see outside the kitchen, which falls under another trope entirely.
  • Cate lampshades this trope on 8 Simple Rules when Paul pulls her aside, and Cate says "Yeah, they'll never hear us from over here" with sarcasm in her voice. Yet, it's played straight, as the kids don't hear them.
  • Parodied in The Young Ones episode "Boring", where Neil is heard shouting to the others from the doorway. This is obviously meant to be private, even though the person he's talking about is right in front of him.
  • Killed to death with a hammer in iCarly. In fact, in one scene, Carly and Freddie are all but screaming while whispering at each other in the kitchen, while people are right in the living room. There is no wall separating the two rooms.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Faceless Ones", the Second Doctor warns Jamie that he doesn't like the policemen questioning them and that when he says 'run', run. He does this in a very deep gravelly voice to imply a whisper, while standing in front of policemen.
    • Inverted by the Fourth Doctor, who had a particular quirk of dropping into a very unsettling, creepy whispering voice to indicate he was emphasising certain words, with other characters clearly able to hear him.
    • In the first episode of the 2011 series of Doctor Who, the companions discuss an Awful Truth that they absolutely cannot tell the Doctor...under the glass floor of the TARDIS console room, with him directly above them. Then he actually interrupts their conversation by sticking his head down over the edge of the floor and tells them to come up top. There is no way he could not have heard it.
  • At one point in Sirens (UK) the crew meet a man with a carrot up his, ahem, bottom. When one of them starts freaking out he gets called away for a private discussion. About two feet away from where he was just standing sort-of near a corner.
  • That '70s Show - in the episode "Vanstock", the group takes Kelso's van to a Woodstock-like venue. Eric, Donna and Fez are sitting in the back of the van, discussing how Kelso is cheating on Jackie with Laurie. Kelso, Jackie and Laurie are sitting in the front of the van, and we can actually see Eric, Donna and Kelso mere feet away from them. It's completely silent in the front of the van until Jackie breaks the silence; there's no way they couldn't have heard them.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dennis reveals he knew that Mac and Charlie were spying on him from the air vents because, "You were talking at full volume!"
  • The zombie episode of The Middleman had the Middleman and Wendy discuss the need to kill a possibly infected man, who is absolutely horrified since he's just a few feet away and can hear every word they say.
  • Played fairly straight in most Star Trek episodes (the addition of the captain's "ready room" in TNG reduced the need to resort to this)... until in the first season finale of DS9 the murderer hiding in plain sight casually eavesdrops on the investigation.
    • Also subverted in "Favor the Bold" when Weyoun reveals that the Vorta have good hearing (in contrast to their bad vision).
  • Lampshaded in Wizards of Waverly Place by the character Jerry Russo, who states that he should 'probably stop talking about people when they're sitting right there!'
  • Langt fra Las Vegas: Done very much in season 1 when Casper tries to hide an unpopular visitor in his apartment from Anne. Usually Casper will freak out and shout to the visitor "hide in the closet/bedroom", and Anne will just ask "are you alone" to which Casper will reply "yes" and Anne will believe him. Otherwise it's rarely seen in the series.
  • Commonly lampshaded in riffs of movies shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and later RiffTrax with something to the effect of "You know we can hear you."
  • How I Met Your Mother: Hilarious lampshading.
    Barney: I'm glad Robin won that bet. [loud whisper] 'Cause she's very sensitive and fragile. I'm referencing the time she cried at Clint's song. And even though I'm whispering, I actually hope she hears me.
  • In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "T.R.A.C.K.S.", the team is on a public train in Italy, yet discuss their plans without noticeably lowering their voices.
  • In Galavant Gareth criticizes King Richard's use of the "evil king whisper" for making it blatantly obvious when he's up to something.
  • In the Community episode "Modern Espionage", this occurs when the characters talk through earpieces while infiltrating the gala. Of course it is Britta who is caught.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): Because the past events of "...The Ruthless Pursuit of Blood with All a Child's Demanding" are told from Claudia's point-of-view, the official English subtitles list "[Indistinct whispering]" when Louis replies to Lestat's question "You missed me?" as the two men are cuddling inside Louis' coffin. It's a prelude to sex, so they don't want their daughter to hear their sweet nothings, but viewers only need to turn up the volume to discern Louis' answer: "I hated sleeping without you."

  • Endemic throughout William Shakespeare's plays, where no one ever overhears soliloquies or "asides". It's generally understood that a soliloquy is a character's train of thought; it is only heard out loud for the audience's benefit. It's basically the theater equivalent of an Inner Monologue.
  • In "The Oldest Established" from Guys and Dolls, one of the choruses suddenly drops to this volume for the words "crap game."

    Video Games 
  • Parodied during one of the branches in the first episode of Minecraft: Story Mode. If you choose to go back into Ivor's golem-infested basement to rescue Lukas, Jesse will sneak around while doing an exaggerated stage whisper.
    Jesse: Lukas, can you hear me? ...even though I'm whispering?
    Lukas: Jesse? Is that you whispering super loudly?


    Western Animation 
  • Used in many episodes of The Simpsons, including one in which two artists/counselors are talking and one claims the children can't hear them because they are stage whispering. When Lisa points out she can hear them quite clearly, the artist/counselor insists she can't.
    • In one of the DVD commentaries, some of the writers joke that The Simpsons offers the loudest Stage Whispers in all of fiction.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Wendy knew for a long time that Dipper had a Precocious Crush on her thanks to all the times he spoke to himself about it with this volume.
    • Played for dark laughs in "Northwest Mansion Mystery" when Preston Northwest declares that: "We'll eat the butler!" right in front of the bulter, who doesn't even react even though he heard everything.