Interjection – Definition, List & Examples

15.05.24 Academic writing Time to read: 9min

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Interjection-01

Interjections stand as one of the most expressive elements within the tapestry of language, serving as linguistic tools. Unlike other parts of speech that contribute to the grammatical or semantic sentence structure, exclamations are unique in their ability to stand alone, encapsulating complex emotions or responses in a single word or phrase. This article delves into the vibrant world of common interjections, exploring their definition, classification, and the roles they play in communication.

Interjection in a nutshell

Interjections are words or phrases used to express strong emotion, surprise, or a spontaneous reaction. They can stand alone or be incorporated into sentences, often followed by an exclamation mark when expressing strong feelings or a comma for milder expressions.

Definition: Interjection

An interjection is a word or a phrase that expresses sudden reactions in the form of a short exclamation. They can range from shock and pain to joy and greeting. There are no grammar rules when it comes to interjections; you can use them before or after a sentence that explains what’s going on, and they can end with different punctuation marks depending on the emotion they want to convey.

When used in spoken language, they typically accompany non-verbal cues, enriching the speaker’s message with layers of meaning. In written form, their use becomes more nuanced, particularly in genres that allow for a personal voice, such as creative writing and informal communication.

In the context of academic writing, the use of English exclamations is generally avoided, as the tone is expected to be formal and objective. They can introduce subjectivity and casualness that are not typically suited to scholarly discourse.

There is also a famous animated musical by Essra Mohawk called “Interjections!” that was featured in a “Schoolhouse Rock!” series in the 1970s. It’s a series of short videos illustrating various songs that teach multiplication tables, grammar, science, American history, computers, economics, and environmentalism.

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Common examples

Below, you will find numerous examples in the form of a list of interjections that are used in the English language. They can cover a broad spectrum of spontaneous emotional expressions, from joy and surprise to disgust and pain, and are used in both formal and informal contexts.

Interjection
Ah
Aha
Ahem
Alas
Bingo
Boo
Bravo
Brrr
Eek
Eh
Eureka
Fie
Gee
Gosh
Ha
Haha
Hey
Hi
Hmm
Hooray
Huh
Hurrah
Ick
Meh
Mmm
Nah
No
Nope
Oh
Oho
Oi
Oof
Oops
Ouch
Ow
Phew
Psst
Shh
Sigh
Uh
Uh-huh
Uh-oh
Ugh
Um
Whoa
Wow
Yay
Yeah
Yep
Yes
Yikes
Yippee
Yo
Yuck
Yuh-uh (Yes)
Yum
Zap

Primary and secondary interjections

Interjections, those spontaneous bursts of emotion, or reaction in language, come in two distinct versions: primary and secondary. In this section, you will find out more about them, as well as examples.

Primary

Primary interjections are words created specifically to express emotions or reactions. They can stand alone, untethered to the grammatical structure of a sentence. They are typically sounds without a clear etymology, and may be written in different ways.

Examples

  • Ugh!
  • Yippee!
  • Um-hum.
  • Ouch!
  • Eek!
  • Ah!
  • Yay!
  • Wow!

Secondary

Secondary interjections, on the other hand, are words or phrases not originally designed as exclamations, but adopted into this role. These can be noun phrases, verbs, or phrases that, when placed in certain contexts, function to express an emotional response.

Examples

  • Great!
  • Silence!
  • Shoot!
  • Bravo!
  • Hello!
  • Goodbye!
  • Awesome!
  • Goodness!

Types of interjections

English exclamations can be categorized into different types based on the functions they serve, or the emotions they express. Here are some of the primary types, along with their examples.

Express personal feelings or emotions of the speaker. They are often instinctive reactions.

Examples

  • “Wow!” (surprise)
  • “Ouch!” (pain)
  • “Yay!” (joy)

Express a wish or a command. They can be used to invoke an action or express a desire.

Examples

  • “Shh!” (request for silence)
  • “Hey!” (calling for attention)

Cognitive interjections reflect mental processes or sudden realisations, often critical thinking or understanding.

Examples

  • “Aha!” (realisation)
  • “Hmm…” (thinking or pondering)

Used to manage the flow of conversation, such as starting, maintaining, or stopping a dialogue.

Examples

  • “Hello!” (greeting)
  • “Bye!” (farewell)
  • “Uh-huh” (acknowledgment)

Comment on the state of the world or an immediate situation, often stating a fact or an obvious truth.

Examples

“Indeed!” (agreement with a fact)

“Luckily!” (expressing fortune)

Interjection-types-01

Role of interjections

Their role in oral and written communication is another focal point. In this paragraph, we will discuss the strategic use of these expressions to inject personality, emotion, and emphasis into text and to accompany non-verbal cues, enriching the speaker’s message with layers of meaning.

Oral communication

Here you will find a list of roles they have in the context of speech, that other words might not convey as concisely or effectively.

 

    • Expressing immediate emotions: Oral communication often involves real-time interactions, where words like “Wow!” or “Ouch!” quickly convey emotions without needing elabourate sentences.
    • Manageing turn-taking: Expressions such as “Uh-huh,” “Right,” or “Mm-hmm” signal active listening, agreement, or the desire to continue or interrupt the conversation.
    • Filling pauses: Words like “Um,” “Uh,” or “Er” are used to fill pauses while thinking or hesitating, keeping the conversational flow.
    • Attracting attention: Phrases like “Hey!” or “Look!” grab the listener’s attention, signaling something important or urgent is about to be communicated.
    • Emphasizing points: Some types of exclamations can underscore a speaker’s point or emotion, adding emphasis or drama to a statement, such as “Seriously!” or “Honestly!”

Written communication

A list of roles interjections can have in written communication can be found below.

 

      • Conveying tone: In the absence of vocal tone and facial expressions, interjections in writing (“Alas,” “Wow,” “Yikes”) help convey the author’s feelings or attitudes toward the subject.
      • Creating realism in dialogueue: In narrative writing, expressions, such as “Wow” or “Ugh,” make characters’ speech more realistic and expressive, mirroring actual spoken language.
      • Adding humour or lightness: Interjectional phrases like “Oops” or “Aha!” can introduce a casual or humourous tone to otherwise formal writing, making the content more engageing or relatable.
      • Emphasizing reactions: Similar to oral use, phrases like “Eek!” or “Phew!” in texts emphasize reactions or feelings, but they are chosen carefully to fit the overall tone and style of writing.
      • Signaling transitions: In some informal or creative texts, interjectional expressions, such as the transition words “Well” or “Anyway” can signal a shift in topic or tone, guiding the reader through sections or points.

Punctuation Marks

Depending on the emotion or tone they express or the context in which they’re used, interjections do not necessarily have to end with an exclamation mark. Below you will find the three different kinds of punctuation usable, together with several examples.

Exclamation Mark (!)

Most commonly, interjectional expressions end with an exclamation mark to express strong emotion, surprise, excitement, or an imperative. The exclamation mark emphasizes the intensity or suddenness of the expression.

Examples

  • Wow! Thank you for the gift.
  • Yikes! That’s a huge bug.
  • Hurray! I won.

Period (.)

Exclamations can end with a period when they convey a mild emotion or are used in a more subdued or informal context. The period suggests a calm tone or a factual statement rather than an outburst.

Examples

  • Oh. I did not expect that.
  • Uh-oh. I think I have a flat tyre.
  • Hmm. I can’t think of anything.

Question Mark (?)

When they are used to expressing confusion, uncertainty, or to pose an immediate question, they might end with a question mark. This indicates that the speaker is seeking a response or clarification.

Examples

  • Huh? What did you say?
  • What? Are you crazy?
  • Eh? I don’t really know, to be honest.

Comma (,)

Interjections can also be followed by a comma when they are used to softly introduce a sentence or are integrated into the flow of a sentence without the need to express strong emotion. The comma suggests a pause and serves to separate the interjection from the rest of the sentence, making the statement more conversational or reflective rather than exclamatory.

Examples

  • Well, I think we should reconsider our plan.
  • Oh, I didn’t realise you were here already.
  • Sorry, I didn’t mean to.

Cultural & linguistic variations

These expressions can differ vastly beyond languages and regions, reflecting the diversity and richness of human emotional expression. Across languages, interjections often use special sounds and syllable types that are not commonly used in other parts of the votaxiulary.

Through examples and analysis, we will illustrate in this section how they are not only universal aspects of language, but also deeply embedded in cultural contexts.

Expressing Surprise:

English: “Wow!”

Spanish: “¡Vaya!”

Expressing Disgust:

English: “Ew!”

French: “Beurk!”

Expressing Joy:

English: “Yay!”

Japanese: “やった!(Yatta!)”

Expressing Pain:

English: “Ouch!”

Arabic: “آه! (Ah!)”

Expressing Hesitation:

English: “Um…”

German: “Ähm…”

Attracting Attention:

English: “Hey!”

Italian: “Ehi!”

Expressing Agreement:

English: “Uh-huh.”

Russian: “Ага! (Aga!)”

Expressing Sadness or Regret:

English: “Alas.”

Korean: “아이고 (Aigo)”

Emphasizing a Point:

English: “Look…”

Hindi: “देखो! (Dekho…)”

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Deictics vs. Interjections

Deictics, also known as deictic expressions or deixis, refer to words or phrases that require contextual information to understand their meaning. Common examples of deictic expressions include pronouns (you, me, this, that), time indicators (now, then, today, tomorrow), and place words (here, there). Since all kinds of interjections are bound by context, they can also be considered a form of deixis.

To further your understanding of the similarities, we will explain the functions, contextual dependency, and their position in a sentence below.

Interjections

Function: Their primary purpose is to express a variety of different emotions or reactions.

Contextual Dependency: While the emotional content of interjections can be universally understood (e.g., “Ouch!” for pain), the intensity or specific nuances might require contextual interpretation.

Standalone: These expressions can often stand alone without the need for a grammatical structure or context, conveying emotion purely through their usage.

Examples

  • Wow! That’s amazing.
  • Oops! I dropped it.
  • Yay! We won the game.

Deictics

Function: Refer to entities, locations, or times based on the speaker’s perspective.

Contextual Dependency: The meaning of deictic expressions changes depending on the context of the utterance, such as the location, the time of speaking, and the relationship between speaker and listener.

Integrated in Sentences: Used within the grammatical structure of sentences to point to specific elements of the context.

Examples

  • This is my favourite book.
  • Can you come here?
  • I will see you tomorrow.

Conceptual Overlap

The perceived overlap might come from the fact that both interjections and deictics are pragmatically driven and context-dependent for their interpretation. Interjections are, by definition, shifters (indexicals) due to being built out of basic deictic elements.

In simpler terms, when we use interjections, we are using words that help show our reaction to something based on the situation we are in. Much like when we use words to point to things near us or talk about time.

FAQs

The difference between interjections such as “wow” and “ugh” lies in their emotional connotations, with “wow” expressing surprise or admiration and “ugh” indicating disgust or frustration.

The most common ones in everyday speech are: Wow, Ouch, Yay, Uh-oh, Oops, Huh, Yikes, Ew, Ahem, and Aha.

An English interjection is a word we use to express strong feelings quickly, like “Yay!” for happiness or “Ouch.” for pain. It’s like a shortcut to show how we feel.

They express a wish or a demand. An example of a volitive interjection is “shh” or “hey.”

Yes, there are angry ones that can be used in regular speech, such as “goddammit,” “dammit,” “bloody hell” or “for heaven’s sake.” They can express anger, annoyance, frustration, and even disappointment depending on the context.