Definition and Examples of Interrupting Phrases

woman entering conference room to interrupt meeting

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An interrupting phrase is a word group (a statement, question, or exclamation) that interrupts the flow of a sentence and is usually set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses. An interrupting phrase is also called an interrupter, an insertion, or a mid-sentence interruption.

The use of interrupting words, phrases, and clauses, says Robert A. Harris, "confers a natural, spoken, informal feel to a sentence" (Writing with Clarity and Style, 2003).

Examples of Interrupting Phrases

  • "Perhaps the most unusual track is 'Compulsion,' a marvellous extended funk workout which sounds - I kid you not - like Blondie's 'Rapture' being covered by LCD Soundsystem." (Dave Simpson, "Doves: The Pop Tortoise That Finally Beat the Hare." The Guardian music blog, Mar. 16, 2009)
  • "So how can the less obsessive - er, organized - among us better manage our money?" (Ismat Sarah Mangla, "Discover Your Budget Style." Money, June 2009)
  • "Nehi was the pop of small towns—I don't know why—and it had the intensest flavor and most vivid colors of any products yet cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption." (Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Broadway Books, 2006)
  • "Below the moon, the houses opposite her window blazed back in transparent shadow; and something - was it a coin or a ring? - glittered half-way across the chalk-white street." (Elizabeth Bowen, "Mysterious Kor." The Demon Lover and Other Stories, 1945)
  • “[H]e had the true New Yorker's secret belief that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” (John Updike, Bech Is Back, 1982)
  • "A-Rod, popping up, takes a backward step, bumps the upper part of his bat with his fist—bad bat—turns left and lifts his chin on departure, as if he were counting the house." (Roger Angell, "The Yankees Are Dead." The New Yorker, October 19, 2012)
  • "Did you know—this is a little-known fact but absolute truth—that when they dedicate a new multistorey car park, the Lord Mayor and his wife have a ceremonial pee in the stairwell? It's true." (Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island. Doubleday, 1995)
  • "Long term, car loans and—you guessed it—home loans will be much harder to come by." (Barbara Kiviat, "Walking Away From Your Mortgage." Time, June 19, 2008)
  • "'God,' I would say, when I was standing in deep right field—the coach put me in right field only because it was against the rules to put me in Sweden, where I would have done less damage to the team—'please please PLEASE don't let the ball come to me.'" (Dave Barry, "Our National Pastime." Dave Barry Is From Mars and Venus. Crown, 1997)
  • "The Norman Conquests is so damned funny (though grounded, as Ayckbourn's comedy always is, in real emotion) that it may simply perpetuate the misconception of Ayckbourn as a skilled boulevard entertainer. Which would leave American audiences still largely ignorant of the astonishing body of work by—controversial pronouncement alert!—the greatest living English-language playwright." (Richard Zoglin, "Man of the Moment." Time, May 4, 2009)
  • "The Inspector, normally a peaceable, easy-going man, kind to his wife and family, fond of books, genial in his enforcement of the law and very generally liked in Tolnbridge, had now become a formidable machine, practically insensible to ordinary fear." (Edmund Crispin, Holy Disorders, 1945)
  • "Count 'em [is a] cliche often seen in parenthesis after a number is mentioned. For example, an article referred to 'the seminal Andrex puppy advent calendar with 25—count 'em—puppy pictures ... .'" (David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style, 3rd ed. Guardian Books, 2010)

Interrupting Phrases and the Conversational Style

  • "[S]entence interruptions may flow naturally from a speaking style. In the following example, Sebastian Junger seems to be speaking to his readers: 'She keeps trying—what else is there to do?—and Stimpson goes back on deck to try to keep the Satori pointed into the seas.' (154) Even in Lewis Thomas's sentence below, the interruption has the air of speech: 'I bring up these shoals of numbers and their repeated cycles, when reduced to single digits, not out of vanity (although I admit to some self-indulgence) but rather the opposite: to disclose that I cannot be a mathematician.' (167) The purpose of interruptions is usually to add information... ."
  • "How writers punctuate interruptions depends on how much separation and emphasis they want. ... Commas usually give the least amount of separation and emphasis, dashes more so. Parentheses give greater separation but usually less emphasis."
    (Donna Gorrell, Style and Difference. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

Interrupting Phrases as Attention Getting Device

  • "The verbal violence involved in stopping one's sentence in order to jump in and present some other information grabs the reader's attention in a dramatic way. It creates the sense that the writer could not wait until the next sentence to make an announcement relevant to the current idea. The emphasis of the interruption is most profound when dashes are used and when the interruption consists of an entire sentence ... ."
    "Many speakers interrupt themselves just this way, so similar interruptions in writing give the prose a feeling of having been spoken." (Robert A. Harris, Writing With Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers. Pyrczak, 2003)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Interrupting Phrases." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 25). Definition and Examples of Interrupting Phrases. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Interrupting Phrases." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 8, 2023).