Writer’s Guide to Interjections: Uses and Examples of Interjections
Hey! If you already know a bit about interjections, then you might recognize that this article starts with one of many examples of interjections. In just one three-letter word — “hey” — we expressed a greeting, a friendly tone, and maybe even a little excitement.
People use interjections all the time when speaking. Every morning, you might interject with a friendly greeting of your own. (Hi!) Or you might use interjections to express surprise. (Wow! No way!) And when you accidentally hurt yourself, chances are you’ll use interjections, too. (Ouch!)
But what are interjections exactly, and how do they work? And, more importantly, why should writers learn about interjections? In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about interjections, including types of interjections, when to use them, and even some examples of common interjections.
Last Updated October 2020
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What is an interjection?
Interjections are words or phrases that people say to express a strong feeling or a sudden emotion.
Interjections are usually found by themselves in their own sentences or at the beginning of a sentence followed by a comma. They add a lot to the dialog to set the tone of a conversation or express a character’s emotion.
Grammatically speaking, interjections are independent from the words around them. That means that you can’t modify an interjection with an adjective, and you don’t need to form a complete sentence with an interjection. In fact, if you remove an interjection from a sentence, the sentence will still be grammatically correct.
Usually, a part of a sentence will be directly connected with another part of the sentence. A verb needs a noun, but an interjection stands alone. It isn’t dependent on anything else in the sentence. It doesn’t modify anything, and nothing else will modify the interjection. As a matter of fact, a lot of interjections can be their own sentence and don’t even need any other words. The interjection is sort of the king of its own hill.
But when you remove an interjection, you might change the meaning of the sentence or make the sentence less emotive or intense.
Functions and examples of interjections
Interjections are a literary device that writers use all the time, especially in short stories, novels, and other types of fiction. Here are the most common functions of interjections.
Writers prefer not to spell out everything that’s going on in a scene, but rather, they give the reader clues through literary devices such as sensory imagery and interjections. So, instead of describing feelings in detail, writers use interjections to express feelings in fewer words.
Examples of feelings and associated interjections include:
- Excitement: “Wow!”
- Surprise: “Oh my!”
- Approval: “Great job!”
- Fear: “Yikes!”
- Happiness: “Great!”
- Anger: “Grrr!”
- Pain: “Ow!”
Evoke the past
If you’re writing a short story that’s set in the past, one challenge is reconstructing dialog to match the speaking patterns and vocabulary of another time. One way to achieve this is by using interjections that people recognize as sounding old-fashioned. While your readers will understand what these interjections mean, they don’t use them in their own modern speech.
Examples of old-fashioned interjections include:
- Holy smokes!
Emphasize a pause or silence
Another challenge that writers face when writing a novel or short story is indicating pauses in speech. So, writers use interjections to show the readers when a person is pausing or hesitating while speaking.
Here are some examples of interjections that show pause or silence:
- Um: “I’m here to, um, talk about, um, my project.”
- Er: “I forgot to, er, ask for permission.”
- You know: “I think, you know, that we should, you know, do it now.”
Add commonly spoken phrases and sounds
When we speak, we don’t always say everything in complete sentences. Writers use interjections to make written dialog sound more like a natural spoken conversation.
Examples of interjections like this include:
- Greetings and goodbyes: “Hi there.”
- Getting someone’s attention: “Excuse me!” “Pssssst.” “You there!”
- Responses: “Uh-huh.” “Alright.” “OK!”
- Starting a sentence: “Well,” “Yes,” “Indeed,”
When to use interjections
Interjections are a helpful literary device for anyone who wants to write a great short story or make written dialog seem more realistic. They’re used mainly in dialog or when relaying what a person said. It is rare to use an interjection in journalism or in business letters. This helpful bit of a sentence mostly appears in creative writing, novels, screenplays, or short stories.
But that doesn’t always mean you should add interjections in everything you write. Here’s when you should use interjections.
Informal writing and scenes
There are stricter rules with formal writing, and one of those rules is to avoid interjections. If you’re writing a work of nonfiction, such as a research paper or news article, your writing should stick to the observable and verifiable facts. And as with any form of objective writing, you should avoid adding emotions and opinions into the text.
On the other hand, feel free to add interjections in fiction and informal writing such as novels, short stories, and even poetry. That said, even if you’re writing a novel or short story, you should think about the mood you’re creating in a particular scene. A somber, solemn, or dignified scene should avoid interjections unless you mean for the mood to be suddenly disrupted.
In real life, we change our speech patterns depending on the situation and who we’re talking to. The way you talk to your best friend is very different than how you would speak during a formal professional presentation. Writers can help readers understand the context of a scene by adding — or omitting — interjections in the dialog.
Interjections can also tell the reader a lot about the characters you create and their background. For example, imagine a character sitting in a formal dinner scene and exclaiming, “Now that’s some tasty grub!” Can you tell that this character isn’t used to being at formal events? Instead of writing these things directly, writers can give their readers the chance to draw their own conclusions based on clues like interjections.
If you can think of a famous character from a book, movie, or TV show, chances are that the character has some sort of catchphrase or unique interjection. Writers associate interjections with characters so that readers can remember them better. Character-specific interjections also help readers understand and remember the personality traits of a certain character.
Examples of character-specific interjections include:
- “D’oh!”: Homer Simpson, a clumsy and accident-prone father from The Simpsons.
- “Elementary, my dear Watson.”: Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant yet patronizing detective.
- “Cowabunga!”: The Ninja Turtles, teenage superheroes.
- “Yabba dabba doo!”: Fred Flintstone.
If you’re writing your first book and want to make your characters more memorable, try giving them a catchphrase interjection. It just may go viral!
To exclaim or not to exclaim
You’ve probably already noticed that a lot of interjections come with exclamation points. And while a lot of writers learn to use exclamation marks as little as possible, interjections are a bit of an exception. That’s because the whole point of interjections is to bring some life and color into your writing with emotional words. Exclamation marks help add some emphasis to your interjections.
That said, not all interjections need an exclamation mark. In fact, some interjections change their meaning and emotion depending on whether there’s an exclamation mark. For example, take a look at these two sentences:
“Hey! You left your bag.”
“Hey. You left your bag.”
Both examples use the same interjection for the same purpose — to get someone’s attention. But the first interjection is more animated. Perhaps the writer wants the person to sound more excited, desperate, or even agitated. On the other hand, the second example sounds a lot calmer and more casual.
In short, the rules for exclamation marks are different with interjections. Feel free to use them to add to the emotion and mood you want to create in your writing.
Words that aren’t interjections
There are some words that are their own sentences and, at first glance, might look like an interjection. For instance, consider this sentence:
“Sarah! Stop that!”
The name “Sarah” looks like an interjection with it being the only word in a sentence, and an exclamation mark follows it. But it’s actually a proper noun, not an interjection. A person’s name is not an interjection.
Look at the sentence below for another example of a word that might look like an interjection but is not:
“Go! Get out of here right now.”
The word “go” is not an interjection but rather a regular action word or verb.
Interjections make writing more realistic
A big challenge creative writers face is convincing readers that words on the page are part of a living, breathing world. An interjection helps break up long sentences and dialog because it, well, interjects with the sounds and expresses emotions of real life.
Remember that the best writers learn from each other. And it’s never been easier to learn from writers around the world through online creative writing courses that teach you about interjections and other parts of the writing process.
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