Zoinks! Humbug! Bada bing! Ruh-roh! Holy Hole in a Doughnut, Batman!
Some of the all-time most famous characters’ dialogue is full of interjections. In fact, you can probably identify each character from their particular interjection. I’ll even bet you may have learned some interesting and unassuming interjections as a kid to keep you from straying into curse words, like "horse feathers" or "bat’s knuckles."
Your computer might even use an interjection when you’ve fallen through a digital crack: "Oops! The page you’re looking for seems to be missing."
What would life be without interjections?
What is an interjection?
You most likely know several interjections, but did you know the word comes from the Latin inter, which means "between", and jacere, which means "to throw"? So you’re literally throwing a word or phrase in between sentences or thoughts to signify your feelings. It’s a word bomb to get someone’s attention.
More often than not, you'll use an interjection to express surprise or excitement.
Examples of interjections:
- "Wow! I can’t believe you found it."
- "Ouch! Stop pinching; you’re hurting me."
- "Terrific! I’ll be right there."
When should you use an interjection?
Most people use interjections today in the form of emojis. For example, you might type:
Your emoji signifies how you feel about that vegan burrito.
Your character in your manuscript, however, won’t communicate in emojis unless you’re writing an entire story in text messages. (Let’s hope not.)
Instead, your character might say:
- "Ew, the burrito is vegan."
- "The burrito is vegan. Yum!"
While most conversations between human beings include interjections, you don’t want to pepper your dialogue or narrative with them. Why? Because more careful word choice leads to a better mental picture in your readers’ minds than an interjection.
- My eyes took in the vegan burrito, and all saliva instantly dried up. How could they present that hideous concoction as a meal entrée? Don’t these people know their customers need meat to survive?
How to punctuate interjections
If you’re writing interjections, know how to punctuate them correctly. When using an interjection to relay a strong emotion, set the interjection off as a separate sentence with an exclamation point.
- "Ugh! They’re serving reheated vegan burritos today."
- "Yes! Vegan burritos again today for lunch."
If you want to capture your character’s alarm or surprise, follow your interjection with a question mark.
- "Huh? You want to go out on a date with me?"
- "Really? You want to eat vegan burritos again?"
When you’re not expressing intense emotions, a comma will suffice.
- "Hey, what’s the answer to the second question?"
- "Meh, I couldn’t care less about vegan burritos."
Writers use interjections because people use them in speech all the time.
- "Um, so, like, would you maybe, um, want to, like, go out sometime?"
How many times have you read in a book or watched on film as the nervous, shy guy stumbles over his own words when trying to ask out the gorgeous supermodel? But if you’d rather not be cliché, you can still use interjections to define certain characters. One character might start all of his sentences with, "Okay, then." Or some other interjection because real-life people have these little idiosyncrasies that show up in their speech, right? (Mine is dropping in "right?" at the end of sentences.)
Remember, however, that some people view exclamation points like laughing at your own joke. Limit those in your manuscript. And eliminate them from your work emails.
But that’s another post entirely.