Isolated Function Words

Function Words

What are Isolated Function Words?

There are a number of specialized words and phrases that occur in isolation from regular sentence structures. They are found primarily in dialogue situations, where they act as cues or signals. They should be mastered by anyone who desires to use spoken English with full effectiveness.  They are seldom discussed in conventional grammar books an often neglected in courses of English language instruction, but their importance in colloquial speech is very great.


1. Greetings: Hello (standard), hi, Howdy (informal)

2. Farewells: good-bye (standard), so long (informal).

3. Attention Attracters: Hey, past, yoo-hoo, oh, say.

Hey is used in all sorts of situations, except the most formal.

It may be whispered, spoken or shouted.

Hey! – you.

Hey! – you in the brown suit!

Hey – Miss!


Oh is used in more formal situations when it is necessary to show respect or politeness.  (You should not use hey to a superior, older person, or respectable stranger)

Oh, Mr. Jones! May I speak to you a moment?


Psst is spoken in a near-whisper, in situations where secrecy, quite, or decorum are expected (as in sick rooms, libraries, churches, etc)  It signals that the conversation is to be carried on in low tones or whispers.

Yoo-hoo. Is usually called or shouted to attract attention at a distance.


4. Emotives: Whew, gosh, gee, wow, damn, etc

These serve to express and/or release feelings and tensions.  They may occur alone or closely followed by amplifying phrases or sentences.

Many swear words and obscenities belong to this group.

Whew!… That was close! (After a tense traffic situation)

Gosh, it’s hot!

Damn! I it the worn end of my cigarette.


5. Assenters: yes, yeah, sure, uh-huh, right, very true, amen, etc

These occur in dialogue situations and give notice that the listener is in accord with the speaker, or at least paying attention to him. They follow affirmative statements made by the other speaker.

– What this city needs is a good drainage system to prevent floods.

Yeah. It sure does.


6. Responses: yes, no, yeah, yah, nope, maybe, perhaps, o.k., all right, surely, etc.

These respond to questions, suggestions, requests, or commands.

You want to go downtown?

Yeah, I guess so.


Would you like to drive to Austin tomorrow?

Maybe…. If I finish my work.


How about a cup of coffee?



Take this message to the headquarters.

Yes, Sir!


7. Pause words: Let’s see, Well, Hmmn.

These are used to indicate a pause for thought, or to express hesitation or reluctance to agree with the other speaker.  The vowel or voiced element is often considerably lengthened in utterance.


Let’s see.  You’re Lt. Obergi, aren’t you?

Well,   You may be right.

Hmmn… I wonder if that’s the real reason.


8. Silencers: Hush, sh— (a whispered sibilant /s/), quite!

These are used to demand silence, or at least a decrease of noise.


Hush! I’m trying to make a long distance call!

Sh–! The patient’s still asleep.

Quite! You’ll wake the baby.


9. Applauders: Hurray, bravo, splendid, attaboy.

These are used to applaud or encourage effort or successful performance.


Hurray (hurrah in British English) is a group of cheer, but is sometimes used humorously or ironically in private conversation.

Bravo, a European import word, is still used rather self-consciously by Americans.  It serves to applaud outstanding stage, operatic or concert performance.

Splendid, more common in Britain than America but used by some Americans.

Attaboy (sometimes also attagirl) A slang word used to applaud individual performances in sport and other informal activities.


10. Offerings: here, here you are, have + (noun or n. sub)

Conventional expressions accompanying the offer of food, drink, cigarettes, etc.


Here, this is for you.

Can I borrow your pencil for a minute? Sure. Here you are.  (Handing it to first speaker)

Have another piece of candy. (Offering open candy box)


11.Retarders: Whoa, not so fast.

These request a reduction of speed on the part of the person addressed.

Whoa was originally used as a signal to horses and retains a humorous connotation.


Whoa what’s your hurry?

Not so fast! My legs aren’t as long as yours.

Not so fast! This is a 20 mile zone.


12. Dissenters: nonsense, how absurd, how ridiculous (standard), bull, baloney, nuts, etc (slang)

These are used to reject or dismiss as worthless the ideas or opinions just expressed by the other speaker.  They are usually spoken in a tone of impatience or contempt.


It says in this article that Myrna Malloy’s favorite hobby is reading ancient Geek poetry in the original.  Before she became a star, she..

Nonsense! If that dumb blonde is a Greek scholar, I’m an astronaut.


13. Permission givers: yes, sure, go ahead, do, please do.

These give affirmative answers to requests for permission to do something.

May I use your typewriter for a few minutes?

Sure.  Go ahead.


Do you mind if I sit here till its time for my next class?

Not at all: please do.


14. Persuaders: Come on; Aw, come on.

These expressions are used to urge another person to change his present activity or attitude in favor of the one that we are proposing.


Come on; stop listening to that TV and let’s go downtown.

Come on; don’t be so lazy1


Aw, come on repeats a request more insistently, after one or more refusals.


I tell you I can’t go with you.  I have to do some homework.

-Aw, come on.  You can do your homework later.


15. Pain indicator: Ouch

Used to indicate that we have just experienced a sudden (but insignificant) pain.



What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever had a short in the arm before?

Yeah, but that one must’ve hit a nerve or something!


16. Alerters: careful, look out, watch out

These expressions give instant warning of immediate possible danger.


Careful! That gun may be loaded.

Look out! That driver’s going to make a turn.

Watch out! That car is coming pretty fast.


17. Surprise indicators: oh, well

Used alone, or followed by explanatory material.  They indicate that the speaker is confronted with something unexpected.

Oh, excuse me.  I thought this room was empty.

Well! Look who’s here! (Encountering someone unexpectedly)

You will find more about function words here see:

Function Words

Question words

March 21, 2015