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An interjection is a word or expression that occurs as an utterance on its own and expresses a spontaneous feeling or reaction. Interjection_sentence_0

It is a diverse category, encompassing many different parts of speech, such as exclamations (ouch!, wow! Interjection_sentence_1

), curses (damn! Interjection_sentence_2

), greetings (hey, bye), response particles (okay, oh!, m-hm, huh? Interjection_sentence_3 ), hesitation markers (uh, er, um) and other words (stop, cool). Interjection_sentence_4

Due to its diverse nature, the category of interjections partly overlaps with a few other categories like profanities, discourse markers and fillers. Interjection_sentence_5

The use and linguistic discussion of interjections can be traced historically through the Greek and Latin Modistae over many centuries. Interjection_sentence_6

Historical classification Interjection_section_0

Greek and Latin intellectuals as well as the Modistae have contributed to the different perspectives of interjections in language throughout history. Interjection_sentence_7

The Greeks held that interjections fell into the grammatical category of adverbs. Interjection_sentence_8

They thought interjections modified the verb much in the same way as adverbs do, thus interjections were closely connected to verbs. Interjection_sentence_9

Unlike their Greek counterparts, many Latin scholars took the position that interjections did not rely on verbs and were used to communicate emotions and abstract ideas. Interjection_sentence_10

They considered interjections to be their own independent part of speech. Interjection_sentence_11

Further, the Latin grammarians classified any small non-word utterances as interjections. Interjection_sentence_12

Several hundred years later, the 13th- and 14th-century Modistae took inconsistent approaches to interjections. Interjection_sentence_13

Some, such as Thomas of Erfurt, agreed with the former Greeks that the interjection was closely tied to the verb while others like Siger of Courtrai held that the interjection was its own part of speech syntactically, much like the Latin scholars. Interjection_sentence_14

Meaning and use Interjection_section_1

In contrast to typical words and sentences, the function of most interjections is related to an expression of feeling, rather than representing some idea or concept. Interjection_sentence_15

Generally, interjections can be classified into three types of meaning: volitive, emotive, or cognitive. Interjection_sentence_16


  • Volitive interjections function as imperative or directive expressions, requesting or demanding something from the addressee (e.g. "Shh!" = "Be quiet!").Interjection_item_0_0
  • Emotive interjections are used to express emotions, such as disgust and fear (e.g. "Yuck!" = disgust).Interjection_item_0_1
  • Cognitive interjections express feelings which are more related to cognition, or information known to the speaker of the utterance (e.g. "Wow!" = surprise).Interjection_item_0_2

While there exists some apparent overlap between emotive and cognitive interjections, as both express a feeling, cognitive interjections can be seen as more related to knowledge of something (i.e. information previously known to the speaker, or recently learned). Interjection_sentence_17

Distinctions and modern classification Interjection_section_2

Primary and secondary interjections Interjection_section_3

Interjections may be subdivided and classified in several ways. Interjection_sentence_18

A common distinction is based on relations to other word categories: primary interjections are interjections first and foremost (examples: , Ouch!, Huh? Interjection_sentence_19

), while secondary interjections are words from other categories that come to be used as interjections in virtue of their meaning (examples: Damn!, Hell!) Interjection_sentence_20

Primary interjections are generally considered to be single words (Oh!, Wow!). Interjection_sentence_21

Secondary interjections can consist of multi-word phrases, or interjectional phrases, (examples: sup! Interjection_sentence_22

from What's up?, Excuse me!, Oh dear!, Thank God! Interjection_sentence_23

), but can also include single-word alarm words (Help! Interjection_sentence_24

), swear and taboo words (Heavens! Interjection_sentence_25

), and other words used to show emotion (Drats!). Interjection_sentence_26

Although secondary interjections tend to interact more with the words around them, a characteristic of all interjections—whether primary or secondary—is that they can stand alone. Interjection_sentence_27

For example, it is possible to utter an interjection like ouch! Interjection_sentence_28

or bloody hell! Interjection_sentence_29

on its own, whereas a different part of speech that may seem similar in function and length, such as the conjunction and, cannot be uttered alone (you can't just say and! Interjection_sentence_30

independently in English). Interjection_sentence_31

Further distinctions can be made based on function. Interjection_sentence_32

Exclamations and curses are primarily about giving expression to private feelings or emotions, while response particles and hesitation markers are primarily directed at managing the flow of social interaction. Interjection_sentence_33

Interjections and other word classes Interjection_section_4

Interjections are sometimes classified as particles, a catch-all category that includes adverbs and onomatopoeia. Interjection_sentence_34

The main thing these word types share is that they can occur on their own and do not easily undergo inflection, but they are otherwise divergent in several ways. Interjection_sentence_35

A key difference between interjections and onomatopoeia is that interjections are typically responses to events, while onomatopoeia can be seen as imitations of events. Interjection_sentence_36

Interjections can also be confused with adverbs when they appear following a form of the verb “go” (as in "he went 'ouch! Interjection_sentence_37

'"), which may seem to describe a manner of going (compare: 'he went rapidly'). Interjection_sentence_38

However, this is only a superficial similarity, as the verb go in the first example does not describe the action of going somewhere. Interjection_sentence_39

One way to differentiate between an interjection and adverb in this position is to find the speaker of the item in question. Interjection_sentence_40

If it is understood that the subject of the utterance also utters the item (as in "ouch!" Interjection_sentence_41

in the first example), then it cannot be an adverb. Interjection_sentence_42

Routines are considered as a form of speech acts that rely on an understood social communicative pattern between the addressee and addressed. Interjection_sentence_43

This differs from an interjection that is more of a strategic utterance within a speech act that brings attention to the utterance but may or may not also have an intended addressed (directed at an individual or group). Interjection_sentence_44

In addition, routines generally are multi-word expressions whereas interjections tend to be single utterances. Interjection_sentence_45

Under a different use of the term 'particle', particles and interjections can be distinctions in that particles cannot be independent utterances and are fully a part of the syntax of the utterance. Interjection_sentence_46

Interjections, on the other hand, can stand alone and also are always preceded by a pause, separating them from the grammar and syntax of other surrounding utterances. Interjection_sentence_47

Interjections as deictics Interjection_section_5

Interjections are bound by context, meaning that their interpretation is largely dependent on the time and place at which they are uttered. Interjection_sentence_48

In linguistics, interjections can also be considered a form of deixis. Interjection_sentence_49

Although their meaning is fixed (e.g. Interjection_sentence_50

"Wow!" Interjection_sentence_51

= surprised), there is also a referencing element which is tied to the situation. Interjection_sentence_52

For example, the use of the interjection "Wow!" Interjection_sentence_53

necessarily references some relation between the speaker and something that has just caused surprise to the speaker at the moment of the utterance. Interjection_sentence_54

Without context, the listener would not know the referent of the expression (i.e. the source of the surprise). Interjection_sentence_55

Similarly, the interjection "Ouch!" Interjection_sentence_56

generally expresses pain, but also requires contextual information for the listener to determine the referent of the expression (i.e. the cause of the pain). Interjection_sentence_57

While we can often see deictic or indexical elements in expressive interjections, examples of reference are perhaps more clearly illustrated in the use of imperative examples. Interjection_sentence_58

Volitive interjections such as "Ahem", "Psst! Interjection_sentence_59

", and "Shh!" Interjection_sentence_60

could be considered imperative, as the speaker is requesting or demanding something from the listener. Interjection_sentence_61

Similar to the deictic pronoun "you", the referent of these expressions changes, dependent on the context of the utterance. Interjection_sentence_62

Interjections across languages Interjection_section_6

Interjections can take very different forms and meanings across cultures. Interjection_sentence_63

For instance, the English interjections gee and wow have no direct equivalent in Polish, and the closest equivalent for Polish 'fu' (an interjection of disgust) is the different sounding 'Yuck!'. Interjection_sentence_64

Curses likewise are famously language-specific and colourful. Interjection_sentence_65

On the other hand, interjections that manage social interaction may be more similar across languages. Interjection_sentence_66

For instance, the word 'Huh? Interjection_sentence_67

', used when one has not caught what someone just said, is remarkably similar in 31 spoken languages around the world, prompting claims that it may be a universal word. Interjection_sentence_68

Similar observations have been made for the interjections 'Oh!' Interjection_sentence_69

(meaning, roughly, "now I see") and 'Mm/m-hm' (with the meaning "keep talking, I'm with you"). Interjection_sentence_70

Across languages, interjections often use special sounds and syllable types that are not commonly used in other parts of the vocabulary. Interjection_sentence_71

For instance, interjections like 'brr' and 'shh!' Interjection_sentence_72

are made entirely of consonants, where in virtually all languages, words have to feature at least one vowel-like element. Interjection_sentence_73

Some, like 'tut-tut' and 'ahem', are written like normal words, but their actual production involves clicks or throat-clearing. Interjection_sentence_74

The phonetic atypicality of some interjections is one reason they have traditionally been considered as lying outside the realm of language. Interjection_sentence_75

Examples from English Interjection_section_7

Several English interjections contain sounds, or are sounds as opposed to words, that do not (or very rarely) exist in regular English phonological inventory. Interjection_sentence_76

For example: Interjection_sentence_77


  • Ahem [əʔəm], [ʔəhəm], [əɦəm], or [ʔəhəm], ("Attention!") may contain a glottal stop ʔ or a ɦ in any dialect of English; the glottal stop is common in American English, some British dialects, and in other languages, such as German.Interjection_item_1_3
  • Gah [ɡæh], [ɡɑː] ("Gah, there's nothing to do!") ends with [h], which does not occur with regular English words.Interjection_item_1_4
  • Psst [psːt] ("Listen closely!") is an entirely consonantal syllable, and its consonant cluster does not occur initially in regular English words.Interjection_item_1_5
  • Shh [ʃːː] ("Quiet!") is another entirely consonantal syllable word.Interjection_item_1_6
  • Tut-tut [ǁ] ("Shame on you"), also spelled tsk-tsk, is made up entirely of clicks, which are an active part of regular speech in several African languages. This particular click is dental. (This also has the spelling pronunciation [tʌt tʌt].)Interjection_item_1_7
  • Ugh [ʌx] ("Disgusting!") ends with a velar fricative consonant, which is otherwise restricted to just a few regional dialects of English, though is common in languages like Spanish, German, Gaelic and Russian.Interjection_item_1_8
  • Whew or phew [ɸɪu], [ɸju] ("What a relief!"), also spelled shew, may start with a bilabial fricative, a sound pronounced with a strong puff of air through the lips. This sound is a common phoneme in such languages as Suki (a language of New Guinea) and Ewe and Logba (both spoken in Ghana and Togo).Interjection_item_1_9
  • Uh-oh [ˈʌʔoʊ], [ˈʌ̆ʔ˦oʊ˨] ("Oh, no!") contains a glottal stop and consists of only vowel sounds.Interjection_item_1_10
  • Yeah [jæ] ("Yes") ends with the vowel [æ], or in some dialects the short vowel [ɛ] or tensed [ɛə], none of which are found at the end of any regular English words.Interjection_item_1_11

See also Interjection_section_8


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