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What Are Interjections? The Key to Writing Authentic Dialogue

Use appropriate language.

It’s a guideline you see listed on nearly every paper rubric. It sounds straightforward until you find yourself staring at a white screen wondering, “what IS appropriate language?”

You’re confident that you shouldn’t use slang, profanity, or emojis. But what about contractions, colloquialisms, and abbreviations?

But, wait. Don’t be so quick to dismiss emojis. What is an interjection, after all, but an old-fashioned emoji?

What is an interjection in grammar? You may be more familiar with the definition of interjection than you think; you use them all the time when you’re speaking.

This guide will help you define interjection and learn when it is appropriate to use these emotion-driven words. In addition to the interjection definition, you’ll find examples, guidance on how to use them to enhance your prose writing, and tips and tricks on correctly punctuating them.

This part of speech is rarely appropriate in academic writing unless it is part of a quotation. Here's a site that can help with structuring and citing your quotes in MLA format and more styles. There's also a handy grammar and plagiarism checker.

Interjection Definition and Examples

What is an interjection? It’s a word or phrase that is injected into a sentence to express sudden emotions. In English, these interjectors are occasionally classified as function words: that is, they provide structure in support of nearby content words. Click here to read more about their classification.

Another factor used to define interjection is its lack of grammatical relationship with the other words in a sentence. Set apart by punctuation, or forming a complete sentence on their own, they can be removed without changing a sentence’s meaning. Click here to read more.

The uses of these words can typically be categorized as volitive, emotive, and cognitive.

  • Volitive: Words in this class make requests or demands and are typically forceful.

  • Emotive: Words that express emotion.

  • Cognitive: Words in this class also express emotion, but the feelings conveyed are more closely related to cognition.

Among these three distinctions, they can also be classed as either primary or secondary.

What are primary and secondary interjections? Primary are those words which primarily or only fit the definition of an interjection and cannot be classed as another part of speech.

  • For example: ouch, eek, and yuck.

Secondary words are those borrowed from other parts of speech for temporary use in a manner that fits the interjection definition.

  • For example: rats, shoot, and well.

If you’re writing a paper in APA format, you certainly may use some of these secondary words, but their function will differ.

Interjections: Definition and Use

The answer to what is an interjection is a bit of a moving target, as many words can be used to serve this function. They are frequently found at the beginning of sentences, but they can also show up at the middle or end. When trying to define an interjection, its context and punctuation must always be taken into account as these demonstrate the speaker’s level of emotion.

Standalone Interjection Definition

What are standalone interjections? The standalone interjections definition is the same as the standard definition of interjection. Their difference is solely in how they’re used and punctuated. As is demonstrated below, these words stand alone at times to form complete sentences.

What is an interjection that can stand alone? All of them. Just as you would use an emoji to show your emotion or intent, these words change punctuation to change their expression.

Sentence Starters

An interjection’s definition is modified by its placement and punctuation. When you’re writing dialogue in fiction, choosing the correct punctuation is paramount to creating dialogue that is both realistic and revealing. For example:

  • Oh, I guess I’ll stay home and do some reading tonight.

This reads as a simple statement given in response to a polite question, with oh functioning as a discourse marker and conveying little emotion.

Tip: When the speaker is calm, use a comma.

This same example, using a period, offers a different tone and cadence to the speaker’s response:

  • Oh. I guess I’ll stay home and do some reading tonight.

Similar to the comma the emotion here is weak. It offers more range, however; this could be irritation or indifference. Periods are used to show finality, but to clearly define the interjection, and intent, you have to interpret it in context:

  • A: I won’t be here when you get home. I’m going out.
  • B: Oh. I guess I’ll stay home and do some reading tonight.

Tip: To show that a response is permanent, perfunctory, or that the speaker is peeved, use a period.

Now consider the same sentence, punctuated with exclamation points. The definition of the interjection oh shifts again with the punctuation, as the level of emotion has changed:

  • Oh! I guess I’ll stay home and do some reading tonight!

This is delivered with more emotion—one might assume the speaker is responding not to a question, but to a slight:

  • A: I said I was going to Hogsmeade, I didn’t ask you to come.
  • B: Oh! I guess I’ll stay home and do some reading tonight!

Tip: Explosive emotions deserve exclamation points.

Note: O and Oh are not the same. O is a formal address that is always capitalized. It is never followed by punctuation.

Mid-sentence Interruptions

What is an interjection’s purpose in the middle of a sentence? It also expresses emotion, but when used mid-sentence, it only briefly interrupts the course of the speaker’s thought.

When inserted mid-sentence, these words must be set apart by punctuation. Enclosing them in commas or parentheses is appropriate. If additional punctuation is necessary to clarify your meaning, parentheses must be used:

  • He failed another potions exam but, hey, at least he’s consistent.
  • I failed because someone (ahem) let a hippogriff into the common room.
  • The hippogriff thing was a mistake (oops!), but there are other places for you to study.

For guidance in tricky punctuation situations, try running a plagiarism and grammar check with our tool to find errors, get writing suggestions, and help detect unintentional plagiarism.

Sentence Enders

At the end of a sentence, interjecting words reinforce the previous statement or add an additional emotional element. The same rules for punctuation apply:

  • Other places to study, indeed.
  • Are you two done? My goodness.
  • We’re sorry, Hermione. (Yikes!)

Practice

What are the interjections in this sentence?

  • Troll in the dungeon! Run!

Trick question: there are none. While the word run is potentially being shouted along with a good deal of sudden emotion, it is also describing an action. The speaker wants to do more than alert everyone to the troll in the dungeon; they want to inform them that it’s not a troll to be gawked at and they should, indeed, run. This is not part of the sentence that can be removed if the meaning is to be left intact.