Word classes: Interjections

Interjections are a group of words which are commonly used in spoken language to express emotions, reactions and so on. It is generally difficult to categorise them into one of the eight major word classes.

Examples include the following:

  • oh, wow, aha, ouch, tut-tut, ugh, oops, humph, hooray, yuck, whew, yikes, eek

Interjections can occur on their own, or in sequence (e.g. oh wow), and can also be attached to a sentence. These examples are all from informal conversations:

  • Oh that’ll be really good. [S1A-006 #55]
  • Cor Helen that’s a healthy lunch. [S1A-055 #1]
  • Hey he’s got some tea that bloke, hasn’t he. [S1A-019 #29]
  • Gee that’s funny. [S1A-092 #196]

Although interjections are mainly found in spoken language, some examples do occur in writing. For instance, the following example is from an informal social letter:

  • The garden’s coming on well. Mum & Dad gave us ten rose bushes as a house warming present & we have our first bloom – it’s really exciting. (Gosh, the things which satisfy us as we get older ... !! ) [W1B-001 #190–93]

Written examples also occur in representations of speech, like the following (taken from a biography):

  • Ah,’ she said and looked at me with her huge dark eyes. [W2B-004 #43]

Interjections are considered a minor word class from a grammatical point of view. They don’t really enter into grammatical combinations with other words (although they can ‘tack on’ loosely to sentences, as we have seen).

However, we would probably find it hard to do without them in conversation, especially the more frequent ones, such as oh. Try avoiding them in a conversation and see how you go, or listen out for them in others’ speech.

Some linguists think that interjections might have been the first kind of word used by our early human ancestors hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of years ago.

The idea is that these kinds of word can function in a simple way as single-word utterances, so may have been used at a stage before humans developed full grammatical language with words put together into sentences. It is a plausible idea, and intriguing to think about, but we may never know for sure!





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