Ken Paterson Logo


5 November 2019

Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.




Inserts, as I mention in my entry ‘G is for … grammar rules’, are ‘stand-alone’ words and phrases, like ‘sorry’ or ‘good night’. Here are some examples:


A: Right. Shall we get something to eat? I’m starving.

B: Okay. What sort of thing do you want?

A: Kimchi.

B: Excuse me?

A: Gosh! Haven’t you heard of it?

B: Nope. Afraid not.

A: Well, it’s basically Korean pickled vegetables. Really good for you. There’s a new place round the corner that does them.


Inserts may not seem like a big deal, but they represent a key difference between spoken language and its written counterpart, which tends to be characterised by fully-formed sentences.  

Grammarians sometimes place inserts into categories such as the following:

1. Discourse markers (right, well etc.)

2. Expletives (damn, bloody hell etc.)

3. Greetings/farewells (hi, see you later etc.)

4. Hesitators (er, um etc.)

5. Interjections (oh, yuk etc.)

6. Polite language (sorry, excuse me etc.)

7. Response forms (yeah, uh huh etc.)

Such categories are not watertight, however: ‘oh’, for example could be an interjection, a response form or a discourse marker as the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (1999) points out in its interesting section on inserts.


By the way, I look at discourse markers and ‘oh’ in this A-Z under ‘M is for … marking spoken discourse’ and ‘O is for … oh.'


To find out about teaching spoken grammar, you are welcome visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.