Monday, December 21, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Listen up! Interjections are strong!

Listen up!
You don't say!
Get out!

No, I'm not yelling; I'm interjecting! We do it all the time in speech, so why not include interjections in writing as well? An interjection (also known as an exclamation) is a word, phrase, or clause used to convey strong feeling. It has little or no grammatical function in a sentence, and is frequently allowed to stand alone as its own sentence. Interjections are actually quite natural in speech and so are often included in dialogue or even poetry. They can be used to imply a range of emotions such as humor, anger, annoyance or disappointment.

Most parts of speech may be used as interjections because they are grammatically independent of the rest of the sentence. If a word is classified as some other part of speech, but used with the same force as an interjection, it is referred to as an exclamatory noun (Idiot!), exclamatory verb (Help!), exclamatory adjective (Good!), exclamatory pronoun (Dear me!), and so forth.

Some words are used only as interjections and never serve any other purpose: ouch, whew, ugh, psst, and oops are examples. Introductory words such as well or why may also act as interjections when they are functioning as meaningnless utterances: well, I tried my best or why, I would never do that.

Most often an exclamation point will punctuate an interjection because it is used to convey a strong emotion: oh no! If the whole sentence contributes to the feeling, then the exclamation point will come at the very end of the strong feeling: Oh no, I forgot my appointment!

Clearly, oh is a very common interjection as it is used so often in everyday speech and written dialogue. According to Chicago, "oh takes the place of other interjections to express an emotion such as pain {Ow!}, surprise {What!}, wonder {Strange!}, or aversion {Ugh!}." Oh should be capitalized only if it starts the sentences; it is also typically followed by a comma in order to indicate a natural pause.

Check Webster or Chicago for the spellings of some interjections, such as atchoo or pshaw! And if they are not found in either source, seek plausible spellings in literature. If all else fails, sound it out and invent your own!

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