Discourse Markers 

Grab attention, hesitate, interject, affirm and more

Giving a presentation
 

 

Discourse Markers and Expressions

DISCOURSE MARKERS

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.                                                                 

CONTEXT

We want to launch our web site by Thursday.    

GRABBING ATTENTION "MY TURN TO SPEAK"

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.)

HESITATING" LET ME THINK"

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

Well…let's think this over first.   

INTERJECTING "LISTEN TO THIS!"

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)

AFFIRMING

Yes! We can do that.

Got it!  We'll be ready.

No! That is not possible.

CONCEDING  

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

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

NEGATING / DENYING / EXCEPTING

No! It's impossible.

Unlikely!  It's not possible.

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

OTHER EXPRESSIONS

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. 

CONTEXT

We want to launch our web site by Thursday.     

INFERRING  "SINCE THAT IS TRUE"

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

Then we have to have everything ready by Wednesday midnight.

 

SUMMING "IN SUMMARY"

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

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

INTERUPTING

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…

AFFIRMING / ADDING

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…"

CONCEDING   / ACCEPTING RELUCTANTLY

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)

NEGATING / DENYING / EXCEPTING

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?  (very informal – youth expression)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discourse Marker

So… tell me!

techies
 

 

"So" expressions

ADVERB ADVERB CONJUNCTION OTHER

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

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

His idea was too complicated, so we chose another.  (Cause & Effect)

His idea was so-so. (average)

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

My screen is so bright. (very)

We simplified the idea so that it would be easier to complete. (Purpose)

The project leader has the say-so(final decision)

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

His design is ever so good.   (so very)

So what? (impolite – It doesn't matter  "So why does it matter?")

He is a so-and-so(unpleasant person)

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

My so-called friend, forgot to call.  (wrongly named)

So be it.  (in that way, conclusion)

 

 

Drink it because I said so. (to drink it)  (said by a parent)

Categorization (part of speech) may vary according to which grammar book / system you are using.
Also see other So expressions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Resources

 

 

Linguistic Descriptions

BIBER  HUDDLESON / SWAN

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. (Biber 3.4.5)

Also see Stance Adverbials (Biber 10.1.1)
   

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

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

Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage, refers to these words as discourse markers and connecting adverbs (Swan 22.1)  He does not does not discuss specifics of conversational (pragmatic) usage.
 

†Wikipedia contributors. "Pragmatics." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatics

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

Practice

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.)

 

1.
Hello. I'd like a basket of food delivered to my house.
Hello.  __ is that for today?

ADD A TRANSITION: Inference, guessing


2.
Yes, today.
__. What would you like in the basket?

ADD A TRANSITION:affirmation


3.
__an assortment of cheese, crackers, fresh fruit and some little pickles.

ADD A TRANSITION: hesitation


4.
__ do you mean dill pickles or french-style cornichons?

ADD A TRANSITION:
inference


5.
I mean dill pickles. My wife is expecting, and she loves little pickles. 
__ best wishes to you both.


6.
__ what time do you want this delivered?

ADD A TRANSITION: summation, addition


7.
__ immediately if possible. 

ADD A TRANSITION: hesitation


8.
__ it will be difficult but we'll try. 
ADD A TRANSITION concession


9.
__ what's your address?

ADD A TRANSITION: summation or addition


10.
__it's 155 South 2nd Street, apartment 2. 

ADD A TRANSITION: hesitation


11.
__. We'll get your basket of food to you and your wife as soon as we can. 

ADD A TRANSITION: affirmation


12.
___! Thanks a lot.  You are good!  (providing good service) 

ADD A TRANSITION: surprise