Discourse Marker (DM) In English Grammar

screen shot from the movie Juno
Fox Searchlight Pictures

A discourse marker is a particle (such as oh, like, and you know) that is used to direct or redirect the flow of conversation without adding any significant paraphrasable meaning to the discourse.

Also known as DM, discourse particle, discourse connective, pragmatic marker, or pragmatic particle.

In most cases, discourse markers are syntactically independent: that is, removing a marker from a sentence still leaves the sentence structure intact. Discourse markers are more common in informal speech than in most forms of writing.

Examples and Observations

  • "I could so go for like a huge cookie right now, with like, a lamb kabob simultaneously." (Juno MacGuff in Juno, 2007)
  • "You should've gone to China, you know, 'cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events." (Juno MacGuff in Juno, 2007)
  • "Flipping people off is really more up my twin sister Sarah's alley anyway, although I have to admit that my two years of city dwelling have made me a tad more aggressive. But anyway, I'm a sucker for cowboys, so I don't flip him off.
    "Okay, they're not really cowboys since we have farms here in Pinewood, not ranches, but they're close enough in my book." (LuAnn McLane, Trick My Truck but Don't Mess With My Heart. Signet, 2008)
  • Captain Renault: Mademoiselle, you are in Rick's! And Rick is . . .
    Ilsa: Who is he?
    Captain Renault: Well, Rick is the kind of man that . . . well, if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.
    (Casablanca, 1942)
  • Victor Laszlo: Captain, please . . .
    Captain Renault: Oh, please, monsieur. It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill.
  • "You're getting on that plane with Victor where you belong. . . . Now, you've got to listen to me!" (Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca)

Functions of Discourse Markers

  • "Although somewhat dated, [this list of functions based on Laurel J. Brinton (1990:47f)] is still relevant to current studies of discourse markers. According to this list, discourse markers are used - to initiate discourse,
    - to mark a boundary in discourse (shift/partial shift in topic),
    - to preface a response or a reaction,
    - to serve as a filler or delaying tactic,
    - to aid the speaker in holding the floor,
    - to effect an interaction or sharing between speaker and hearer,
    - to bracket the discourse either cataphorically or anaphorically,
    - to mark either foregrounded or backgrounded information." (Simone Müller, Discourse Markers in Native and Non-Native English Discourse. John Benjamins, 2005)

Points of Transition

  • "Speakers, particularly in conversational exchanges, tend to use discourse markers . . . as a way of indicating orientation to what is happening in the discourse. The discourse markers have little explicit meaning but have very definite functions, particularly at transitional points. . . . In the written language, equivalents are expressions such as however, on the other hand, on the contrary, which are used in the transition from one sentence to another." (R. Macaulay, The Social Art: Language and Its Uses. Oxford University Press, 2006)

Now and Then

  • "Then indicates temporal succession between prior and upcoming talk. Its main difference from now is the direction of the discourse which it marks: now points forward in discourse time and then points backward. Another difference is that now focuses on how the speaker's own discourse follows the speaker's own prior talk; then, on the other hand, focuses on how the speaker's discourse follows either party's prior talk." (D. Schiffrin, Discourse Markers. Cambridge University Press, 1988)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Discourse Marker (DM) In English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/discourse-marker-or-dm-1690463. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Discourse Marker (DM) In English Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/discourse-marker-or-dm-1690463 Nordquist, Richard. "Discourse Marker (DM) In English Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/discourse-marker-or-dm-1690463 (accessed June 1, 2023).