The interjection is a common grammatical category, and a simple one, for any word or group of words that we use to express shock, surprise, pain, joy, admiration, and a wide range of other feelings and responses.
Interjections are used by themselves or as part of a sentence:
Interjections have no distinctive form. They can be single words or longer phrases; they can be joined to sentences by commas or dashes, or they can stand independently, ending with periods, question marks, or exclamation marks:
What the heck?
Some interjections serve social purposes: greetings (Hello, Goodbye); pauses (Let’s see, Well . . .); politeness (Please, Thanks); or agreement or disagreement (Yes, No, Yeah, Nah, Maybe, Sure! Says you! Yeah, right! Baloney!).
Some interjections are the kinds of words you use when you drop a hammer on your foot—the words your mother told you to stop using. (You know the words we mean.)
Other interjections are not even actual words, but merely sounds that have become conventional ways to express things: Ouch! Yikes! Sheesh! Oof! Oops! Hubba-hubba! Whoopee! and, in the upper Midwestern states, Uff-da! They are generally easy to recognize.
The most important thing to know about interjections is that, although they are useful for self-expression and social interaction, they play no grammatical role in the sentence. In analyzing the grammar of a sentence, you can disregard the interjections.
Some grammar books classify some of these words as adverbs, though they clearly do not modify verbs, adjectives, or other ad- verbs. (Some could arguably be sentence modifiers, which we’ll examine in Chapter 20.) For our purposes, calling them interjec- tions is sufficient.
THE EIGHT PARTS OF SPEECH
The eight parts of speech belong to that body of general knowledge all educated people are supposed to possess—like the three branches of government, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the five Marx Brothers, the six basic nutrients, the Seven Deadly Sins, and all nine of the eight planets.
In other words, they’re an essential idea in the study of language. The eight parts of speech are eight categories used
in conventional grammar study to account for all the words in English. Every word in English can be placed into one of these categories—or at least one—and we’ve now learned a good deal about all the categories.
Three of the parts of speech are nouns or words associated with nouns:
Nouns: Words that stand for persons, places, things, or ideas.
Pronouns: Words that take the place of nouns.
Adjectives: Words that modify nouns or pronouns.
Two of the parts of speech are verbs and adverbs:
Verbs: Words that indicate an action or a state of being.
Adverbs: Words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Two of the parts of speech are connecting words:
Conjunctions: Words that connect phrases and clauses to other phrases or clauses; they indicate some grammatical relationship between the connected units.
Prepositions: Words that connect a noun or pronoun (the object of the preposition) with other words in the sentence to create adjectival or adverbial phrases.
And the eighth part of speech are the interjections, which we’ve just met. Interjections, again, are exclamatory words and phrases used to express feelings and reactions.
An important part of analyzing the grammar of any sentence is to place each word into one of the eight parts. That’s not always easy. To be honest, a few words just don’t fit well into any of these eight categories. The expletive there is one.
A FORM AND ITS FUNCTIONS
In analyzing the grammar of a sentence, it’s helpful to distin- guish between a form and its functions:
The form can be any word, like a noun or a verb. It can also be a larger unit constructed upon a part of speech, like a verb phrase or a prepositional phrase.
The function is the grammatical role the form plays in a particular sentence. A noun can function as a subject or direct object. Or, as we’ve seen, nouns can have other functions: They can be indirect objects, predicate nominatives, objects of a preposition, or other functions. Similarly, prepositional phrases can be adjectival or adverbial.
A number of forms (nouns, verbs, modifiers) assembled to- gether can build larger phrases and clauses that have their own functions. A relative clause is a form that has an adjectival func- tion in a sentence; a subordinate clause has an adverbial function. The function of any form is defined by the way it is used in a particular sentence, that is, by its context. You can’t look at a single word in isolation and define its function. There are exceptions: It’s usually safe to say that the is an article, used adjectivally. But in the sentence that you just read, the was used as a noun, as the
subject of a clause: “The is an article.”
Consider this word: bill. Is it a noun or a verb? To answer, we need context:
I will bring your monthly bills. He will bill me every month.
In the first sentence, bill is a noun, and it functions as a direct object. In the second sentence, bill is a transitive verb; it functions as the main verb of the sentence.
Or consider these sentences:
I am rising early tomorrow morning. I like rising early.
I like to watch the rising sun.
In the first sentence, rising has the form of a verb (because of its –ing suffix), and it also has the function of a verb, as part of a progressive tense verb, am rising.
In the second sentence, rising again has the form a verb, the present participle of rise, but it has the function of a noun, the direct object of the transitive verb like. (What does the speaker like? He likes rising early.)
In the third sentence, rising still has the form of a verb, but it has the function of an adjective, modifying sun. (We’ll soon learn more about using verbs nominally and adjectivally.)
There are other challenges in classification: For instance, how do we classify particles? You’ll recall that a particle, as we have used the term, is the first element in an infinitive verb (as in to look or to do: I need time to look at my list of things to do) or the second element in a phrasal verb (look up a word). We simply consider these particles as parts of their verbs; they are not regarded as separate words.
And the expletive there, since it doesn’t participate in the grammatical structure of a sentence, doesn’t fit neatly into any grammatical category.
Although we have not discussed the distinction between form and function before, we’ve used the distinction here and there in this book. Early on, we said that nouns could be used adverbially, and that some adverbs could be used nominally. Form and function are important ideas in grammar.
We’ll see that this matter of form and function becomes particularly important as we move on to chapters about verbals.