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Discourse Markers

Grab attention, hesitate, interject, affirm and more

Giving a presentation



In conversation, we often begin a sentence with a word that has nothing to do with the main idea of the sentence.  The word relates more to the social conventions of speaking out in a group:  claiming next turn, drawing attention to what one is about to say, or hesitating to collect one's thoughts before continuing.                                                


We want to launch our web site by Thursday.    


So!   What you are saying is that we have to have everything ready by then. (Listen. / Pay attention.)

So… what you are saying is that we have to have everything ready by then. (Listen. / Ready to speak.)


So… what needs to be done before that time?  (um…)

Well…let's think this over first.   


OK! Let's do it! (support)

Wow! So soon? (surprise)

Well! good luck. (surprise, wishing well when faced with a challenge)

Whoa! Have you thought that out carefully? (dismay – slow down, unexpected)


Yes! We can do that.

Got it!  We'll be ready.

No! That is not possible.


As you wish. We'll try to get it launched.

I hear you. We'll do what we can.


No! It's impossible.

Unlikely!  It's not possible.

Hah!  It could  be done next Thursday at best.  (informal, possibly rude)


In other cases, we transition to a new sentence with a word or phrase that expresses opinion, or attitude regarding the information in the sentence.  The examples below primarily occur in conversation, but may also occur in written transcripts or dialogue.  Many are informal (inf.).  Punctuation and dialectal usage may vary. 


We want to launch our web site by Thursday.     


So you are saying we have to have everything ready by Wednesday midnight.

Then we have to have everything ready by Wednesday midnight.



So we need to get the testing, advertising and database done.  (inf.)

Okay, then you want all the details settled by Wednesday midnight. (inf.)


Don't forget, we also have to…  Inserting a another thought…

Excuse me, but we also have to… 

Pardon me, I'd just like to say that…

So, I'd just like to say that…

What about marketing? Shouldn't we…


Excellent!   We'd better get moving.   get moving – take action, act

Of course!   We'd better get moving. "Yes, we already expected this."

All right. We'd better get moving.  "I agree, I understand."

Also, we need to optimize the site's speed.  "And…"

Let me add, we also have to…  "Adding to that thought…"

No problem. It will be difficult, but we'll try.   "It's difficult, but I agree to…"


Admittedly, he thinks it's better to be ready before the weekend.   "I concede this point."

Believe it or not, it's a good idea.   "I unexpectedly accept this. "

I guess you're right.  We'd better get moving.

It's true that we need to launch , but we also need to have everything in place.  in place – ready

So, I guess we'd better get moving.   (inf.) "And so, "

Anyhow, I guess we'd better get moving.   (inf.) "And so,"

OK, I'll do the database, but you have get the advertising in place. 

OK. So that's that.   (inf.)   "I give up. I understand that it is already decided."

Well, let's get moving.     "I'm concerned, but I agree to…  (depends on intonation)


Wait! So what YOU'RE saying is that WE have to have everything ready by then?  (inf.)   "I disagree."

Really?  / For real?   (inf.)   "I am doubtful"

O…K…  How are we supposed to have everything ready by then?  (inf.) "I am doubtful / disagree."

Like, how are we supposed to do that?  (reluctantly expressing doubt)


Whatever.   very informal or impolite – Used after a series of contrary statements to which there is no possible agreement. "We'll have to agree to disagree." (WEV in text messaging)   


This use of ellipsis (…) to indicate a pause is informal usage.  See Ellipsis.
concede (V)– something is true or correct, although you wish it were not true
launch (V) – begin, make active on the Internet

reluctant (Adj) – slow and unwilling







"Like" (informal uses)

Pausing, quoting, reinforcing, softening the blow

Car stuck between to buses.





Like¹ as an attention getter and as a hesitator has been used in the US English since the beatnik days of the early 1960s. It may either express "My turn to speak." or "I am thinking as I begin to speak." Like² for quotation has been used since the 1970s and 1980s. (McWhorter, Garner)


Like, what happened here?

"Tell me," "Say," "Um,"


The guy is like, "How did you get between two buses?"

And I am like, "I don't know!"

"say"  (The following is the situation: speech, gestures and attitude. The quoter may mimick intonation and body language as well.)


Like³ is also used to reinforce that something is unexpected, true and not overstated. Like(4) has recently been used as a way to soften the blow when delivering unwelcome information about rules, regulations, conventions or protocol.  (These occur in speech informally.)


His car was, like, wedged between two buses.  He had to crawl out the back window.

"actually", "literally", "unexpectedly so", "without exaggeration"


You need to, like, wait for the buses to pass before continuing to drive.

" I must tell you" (I am delivering unwelcome information to you. You may not want to hear it, but I am obliged to tell you.)


protocol (N) – regulations, rules, customs, conventions, etiquette (formal, usually between countries or organizations)

wedge (V) – packed or fixed tightly between two other things

Also see "Like" Uses.

Like (4) "It isn’t surprising that a word meaning “similar to” morphs into a word that quietly allows us to avoid being bumptious, via courteously addressing its likeness rather than the thing itself, via considering it rather than addressing it."






Background "So"

Explaining what has lead up to the current situation



Background "so" vs. Result "so"


In a question and answer exchange, we may hear "so" when introducing background information—an explanation of actions leading up to the moment of focus.


How did you discover this "phantom" planet?

So we didn't really know it was there. We weren't even looking for it. We were watching another star. And then it disappeared. The next night it reappeared. We tracked its movement through the sky and noted its appearances.  Finally, we realized that another unidentified body must be passing in front of it.

Were you able to actually see the star.

So we tried using the telescope in Hawaii on Mauna Kea, but we kept having the same problem. The light from the star we had been tracking was keeping us from seeing the whatever was passing in front of it.


In contraset, result-so expresses a logical result of the action taken.


We tracked the appearance of the star

so we would know its path.

One night the star shone brightly and the next night the star was gone

so we guessed that it was behind another body.

The atmosphere of Earth causes visual distortion

so we had trouble seeing what the moving object was.


phantom (N) – a ghost, an apparition or an illusion

Also see "So" Uses.







"So" Expressions

So… tell me!



"So" expressions


I want the design just so. (in this way, like this)

My screen is so dim that I can't see it. ("excessively" – degree adverb)

We simplified the idea so that it would be easier to complete. ("for the purpose" – Connective Preposition)

I hope it will be so(in that way or manner)

My screen is so bright. ("very"–degree adverb)

Drink it because I said so. ("It" [drink] –Pronoun)

Your play is good, and so is his.  (in that way)

His design is ever so good.   ("so very" – intensified degree adverb)

His idea was so-so. ("average" – Expression)

I change the width, and so it becomes easier to see. (and in that manner, method)

His idea was too complicated, so we chose another.  ("as a result" – Connective Adverb)

He is a so-and-so(unpleasant person ["be" verb])

So-and-so will finish the work (unspecific person[s])

So that's that. (in that way, concession)

So what? ("What is the resulting importance?" –  Connective adverb/Expression – very informal)

The project leader has the say-so. ("decision making rights – Expression)

So be it.  (in that way, conclusion)

We'll be done with this project in a day or so. ("more or less" – adverb)

My so-called friend, forgot to call.  ("In that way called but wrongly" – Expression)  (He does not meet the qualities of a true friend.)

Categorization (part of speech) may vary according to which grammar book / system you are using.

Also see other "So" Uses







► Show Grammar Notes and Works Cited ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)




Linguistic Descriptions


Biber, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English, refers these words as discourse markers. They are "particularly characteristic of spoken dialogue. These are words and expressions which are loosely attached to the clause and facilitate the ongoing interaction… They do not affect the propositional meaning of the clause, instead having a purely pragmatic function… It is uncertain whether we should regard discourse markers as part of the clause or as extra-clausal units (as applies alto to parentheticals in writing.  Where there is clear prosodic or orthographic separation, they are best treated as independent nonclausal units. ( 3.4.5)    Also see Stance Adverbials (10.1.1)  

Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics.


Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language,  discuss uses of so: resultative, deictic, anaphoric, connective (reason and purpose) but not so in conversational (pragmatic) usage.  ("So" 7.7)

Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage, refers to these words as discourse markers and connecting adverbs (22.1) 

Swan does not does not discuss specifics of conversational (pragmatic) usage. 


†"Pragmatics." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Dec. 2011,


Works Cited

  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Garner's Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.






The Customer is Always Right

store clerk


Read Conversation

Caller:  Hello. I'd like a basket of food delivered to my house.
Anne:  Hello. __ is that for today?
Caller:  Yes, today.

Anne:   __ what would you like in the basket?
Caller:  __an assortment of cheese, crackers, fresh fruit and some little pickles.
Anne:   __ do you mean dill pickles or french-style cornichons?
Caller:  I mean dill pickles. My wife is expecting, and she loves little pickles. 
__ best wishes to you both. 

Anne:   __ what time do you want this delivered?
Caller:  __ immediately if possible.

Anne:   __ it will be difficult, but we'll try.
Anne:   __ what's your address?
Caller:  __ it's 155 South 2nd Street, apartment 2.

Anne:   __. We'll get your basket of food to you and your wife as soon as we can.
Caller:  ___! Thanks a lot.  You are good !  (provide good service) 




Add discourse markers for the conversational exchange above.

  1. Edit the sentence adding a word or phrase.
  2. Compare your edit with the feedback.  (More than one answer exists.)


Hello. I'd like a basket of food delivered to my house.
Hello.  __ is that for today?

ADD A TRANSITION: Inference, guessing

Yes, today.
__. What would you like in the basket?

ADD A TRANSITION:affirmation

__an assortment of cheese, crackers, fresh fruit and some little pickles.

ADD A TRANSITION: hesitation

__ do you mean dill pickles or french-style cornichons?


I mean dill pickles. My wife is expecting, and she loves little pickles. 
__ best wishes to you both.

__ what time do you want this delivered?

ADD A TRANSITION: summation, addition

__ immediately if possible. 

ADD A TRANSITION: hesitation

__ it will be difficult, but we'll try. 

__ what's your address?

ADD A TRANSITION: summation or addition

__it's 155 South 2nd Street, apartment 2. 

ADD A TRANSITION: hesitation

__. We'll get your basket of food to you and your wife as soon as we can. 

ADD A TRANSITION: affirmation

___! Thanks a lot.  You are good!  (providing good service)