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:

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:

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:

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

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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