What Is an Interjection?

The interjection brr means "It's cold" or "I'm cold.". (Liam Bailey/Getty Images)

An interjection is a short utterance that usually expresses emotion and is capable of standing alone. Interjections are generally considered one of the traditional parts of speech. Also called an ejaculation or an exclamation.

In writing, an interjection is typically followed by an exclamation point.

Common interjections in English include oops, ouch, gee, oh, ah, ooh, eh, ugh, aw, yo, wow, brr, sh, and yippee.

See Examples and Observations below.


From the Latin, "thrown in"

Examples and Observations

  • Whatever!
    "[T[he signature expression of Generation X is Whatever! Not the routine pronoun that has been in the English language for a good seven centuries, but the interjection that is a complete declaration in itself. Sometimes, as in the 1995 movie Clueless, made when the last of Generation X were in high school, it was accompanied by a W gesture, thumbs together, forefingers forming a V on each hand.
  • "And it lives on. 'Whatever is the catchphrase of Gen X,' said a member of that generation on Yahoo Answers in 2012. 'Gen Y can't steal that from us.'"
    (Allan Metcalf, From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations. Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Proclamation, by crier, for persons bound to answer
    "Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye: A. B., come forth and answer to your name, and save yourself and your bail, or you will forfeit your recognizance."
    (William Lansing, The Lawyers' and Clerks' Assistant, 1898)
  • "Cowabunga"
    (Chief Thunderbird in The Howdy Doody Show and Bart Simpson in The Simpsons)
  • Huh?: A Remarkable Interjection

    The Smithsonian magazine highlighted a word that "instantly signals a need for clarification, is as brief as possible and is easy to produce":

    • New research by Mark Dingemanse and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, has uncovered a surprisingly important role for an interjection long dismissed as one of language's second-class citizens: the humble huh? a sort of voiced question mark slipped in when you don't understand something. In fact, they've found huh? is a "universal word," the first studied by modern linguists.

    • Dingemanse's team analyzed recordings of people speaking ten different languages... Not only did all of the languages have a word intended to initiate a quick clarification, but its form always resembled huh? The utterance, they argue, isn't a mere grunt of stupefaction but a remarkable linguistic invention.

    • (Arika Okrent, "Everybody in Almost Every Language Says 'Huh'? HUH?!"Smithsonian, March 2014)

    • (The original research article is available at the PLOS ONE website: "Is 'Huh?' a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items.")

One of the more intriguing characteristics of interjections is their multifunctionality.

In everyday speech they serve variously as exclamations, hesitations, questions, emphasizers, interrupters, back-channel signals, attention getters, repair indicators, and commands. Gosh, their semantic potential is virtually unlimited:

  • You can fill it [the interjection] like a carrier bag with twenty different senses and a hundred different shades of meaning, all dependent on context, emphasis, and tonal accent. It can express anything from indifference to comprehension, incomprehension, query, rebuttal, rebuke, indignation, impatience, disappointment, surprise, admiration, disgust, and delight in any number of degrees.

(Kristian Smidt, "Ideolectic Characterisation in A Doll's House." Scandinavia: International Journal of Scandinavian Studies, 2002)

So it's unlikely that huh? stands alone as a rich linguistic sign.

Dingemanse and his colleagues point to "other items that are strongly similar in form and function across unrelated languages: continuers like mm/m-hm, hesitation markers like uh/um, and change of state tokens like oh/ah." These interjections, they say, "stay put and help us conduct conversation in optimal ways."

A remarkable linguistic invention, indeed.
(Grammar and Composition Blog, March 25, 2014)



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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Interjection?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-interjection-1691178. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 19). What Is an Interjection? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-interjection-1691178 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Interjection?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-interjection-1691178 (accessed March 25, 2018).