Dysfluency: hesitators, pauses, linkers, signallers, discourse markers – often used in spoken English, but sometimes in written English

It is often noted that one of the major differences between conversation and writing is something known as dysfluency – this is when the use of hesitators (um, er), pauses and repetitions, along with discourse markers – words or phrases like anyway, right, okay, as I say, to begin with.

 

We use them to connect, organise and manage what we say or write or to express attitude, along with other words to signal what is coming next. This usually occurs in speaking because we are often thinking while we are speaking, and often our mental planning of what we want to say is sometimes behind what we are saying, with the result that we say certain words that allows us to pause and ‘catch up’. This is all perfectly natural and we would certainly expect this from anyone we listen to in a casual conversation.

 

Now some discourse markers do exist in formal writing. These include firstly, in addition, moreover, on the other hand, secondly, in conclusion, on the one hand, to begin with, and thirdly.

 

But there are several examples, along with other examples of dysfluency, which are not encouraged in formal writing, which is understandable. But in informal writing, some allowances are made to allow the text to take on a more ‘speaking’ tone, or register, to help it be understood or more reader-friendly by its intended audience.

 

In some lesser forms of formal writing, some writers often have to stick to a style that is often enforced by the publication they work for. While the rules presented to them may be considered good style for the publication, it can restrict freedom of expression of the writer, sometimes being unable to truly express what they want to say.

 

In my writings I fully embrace the informal style as it allows me to write from the heart, and this makes it a more enjoyable and entertaining text to read for my intended readers, which are, of course, mainly students. While I don’t do this in all texts, for those where I am expressing my own thoughts, I also throw in some ‘hesitators’, linkers, phrases and several other examples of deliberate dysfluency: not only because I want to make the text more ‘speaker-authentic’, but also these actually help in getting certain messages across.

 

I have now written over a hundred essays in my conversation topics, and probably fifty per cent of these are all my own work, and so my own words and expressions, along with all their deliberately-placed discourse markers.

 

Below are a list of all the examples I use – In fact, I’m going to give them the overall name of discourse markers, as that is what most of them are – and I have included many examples that come from my own texts. You may already be familiar with many of them…

although

These first few examples are already established in many grammar books, but it’s worth going through them here. ‘Although’ means ‘but’, and is used with the addition of a subject and a verb.

  • I like to think that I grew up in the best possible period to see rock and pop music develop, although my older sisters could credibly say that, as young children, they recall the excitement of the early days of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

  • Over the years I would continuously listen to the charts although the arrival of dancefloor, techno, rap, drum and bass, hip hop and other new electronic genres meant that my interest began to waver.

  • I think I would even consider going on a cruise, a pastime very popular with like-minded retirees, although the loved one may take a bit of convincing.

though

This is sometimes used instead of although, but it is also used at the end of a sentence:

  • I’m afraid your shirt is dirty. Nice trousers, though. (= but I like the trousers)

  • It's a bit cold outside. Sunny, though.

 

even though

This is a stronger form of although:

  • Even though I was perfectly qualified, they wouldn’t give me the job.

  • But when you get to my age you’ll find that weekends appear to happen with relentless regularity (even though, surprisingly, there are only 3900 of them if you live to seventy-five)

  • My wife still looks particularly voluptuous even though she’s… actually, I’d better not say how old in case she reads this.

 

as though

Here, ‘as though’ has a similar meaning to ‘as if’:

  • It looks as though he’s going to lose points. (I believe that it is possible he is going to lose points)

  • By the time the holiday comes round it feels almost as though it was free, leaving you to concentrate on the pleasure without it feeling expensive.

  • I pitied this girl who came to stay, who seemed as though she had come from another country.

 

in spite of

This has a similar meaning as ‘although’ as in ‘but’, but it is used with a noun, pronoun or –ing word:

  • So while it’s fair to say that the new younger generation of French are probably devouring English like a warm croissant in spite of their educational system, it remains to be seen whether the older generations and the politicians will have to eventually accept that, at this time, French is not destined to become the lingua franca of the EU – or the language of business around the world.

  • The only difference between those who live extraordinary lives and those who don’t is facing this fear and doing something in spite of it.

  • I didn’t get the job in spite of being perfectly qualified for the position.

 

despite

This means the same as in spite of, but without using ‘of’:

  • The room had been completely ransacked, but despite the mess, there didn’t seem to be anything missing; these people were clearly only interested in one particular thing.

  • She had a cold, but despite this she still went to the gym.

  • I didn’t get the job despite being perfectly qualified for the position.

 

so

I use this as a stand-alone single-word adverb phrase - with a full-stop instead of a comma - to emphasise the fact that what I am going to say next is introducing a new topic, or I am introducing a question or comment about something that has been said. You can use a comma instead of a full-stop, but I find it helps me get my point across.

  • So. If we can’t go out to visit places because there are too many people with time off, we can stay at home. Hmmm.

  • So. As I understand this, you’re saying that if we make savings here and there, we’ll be able to continue functioning as business for only one more year?

  • So. That’s that. Let’s move on, shall we?

 

right

This does the same job as ‘so’, but usually with a direct reference to what has been discussed before:

  • Right. So what’s the plan?

  • Right. Let’s move onto question two.

  • Right. Well, as far as I’m concerned, what you’ve just said is a complete load of rubbish.

 

okay

This is like saying ‘all right’ as in ‘I will agree’:

  • Okay, if that’s what you think we should do, then we’ll do it.

  • It’s fair to say after that my body decided to expand a little bit. Okay, I’m not what you’d say fat, but according to all this medical and fitness advice that is everywhere on the internet, I am definitely overweight for my height.

  • It is useful if you are consulting British English language dictionaries and you’re trying to get as good a British accent – okay, as good a BBC accent or RP – as you can possibly get!

 

by the way

I use this when I add something to what I am saying, especially when it’s something I’ve just thought of:

  • So while Lord Reith – a Scotsman, by the way – was keen to get us all saying what he thought was the right way to say things, one ex-director of the BBC, Richard Sambrook, made it clear that he did not want to take on such a responsibility.

  • If I can do that, you can be pretty sure I can do anything this company wants from me. And by the way Greg, I was here before you were here and I'll be here after you have gone. I love the company more than you do, so you never need to tell me what to do.

  • The band is just fantastic that is really what I think, oh, by the way, which one's Pink? ('Have a Cigar' by Pink Floyd, 1975, lyrics by Roger Waters)

oh

This is used in a similar way to ‘by the way’, and I even use it to also express surprise.

  • According to self-employed teacher Roger Hartopp (oh… that’s me), being in this situation means that you can’t let any problems become the responsibility of someone else.

  • My job does not require any intensive physical activity and I enjoy what, to me, is a period where I answer to no-one but myself. Oh, except for, perhaps, my accountant, the tax office and ZUS.

 

indeed

Here, used when I want to confirm or agree with something that has just been said; also, this is used to introduce a further comment or statement which strengthens the point I’ve already made, or at the end of a clause to give extra force to the word 'very', or to emphasize a particular word.

  • This has made him either very wise, very generous, or to some people’s minds, very silly indeed.

  • Listening to Dark Side of the Moon gave me the confidence to buy Pink Floyd’s follow-up album Wish You Were Here with my own pocket money. Indeed, I rate it even better than Dark Side of the Moon.

 

therefore

I use this when I want to introduce a logical result or conclusion to what was written before.

  • Even if the message seems dull, they can relax the other person into thinking that you’re at least normal. Therefore, if you want to secure a date ASAP, then forget crafting some kind of ‘interesting’ opening line.

  • If you get stopped after disposing of a used bag, you would still be susceptible to the fine because you don’t have another dog-mess bag handy (just in case). Dogwalkers should therefore either carry a spare bag to show when challenged, or become one of those owners who keeps the full bag with them.

 

well

This can be many things. I use well if I want to indicate that I am about to say something, or that I intend or want to carry on speaking or that I am changing the topic, and am either going back to something that was being discussed earlier or going on to something new.

  • But before you conclude that this is just women sticking to old-fashioned dating rules, well, the men sometimes do it too, often because of their crippling fear of rejection.

  • Should you find this all rather embarrassing, well, I know for a fact that one of the fitness clubs near my Krakow flat is a 24-hour club.

  • So what am I going to do when I eventually do retire? Well, I certainly won’t be watching mainstream television all day long.

  • Thank you Fred. Well, let’s look at the weather forecast.

 

er

This is a clear example of a hesitator, usually in writing in order to represent the sound that people make when they hesitate, especially while they decide what to say next. I use it in my texts when I want to stress that the next thing I am about to say might seem a little strange, unusual or even a little unbelievable to readers, including myself!

  • For the novel, it was H.G. Wells. Great, I thought, something positive – a classic Sci-fi writer. Er, no – it was The History of Mr. Polly, a story of a guy with a middle-age crisis.

  • I know that’s what I did when I once tried a fitness centre, er, so many years ago.

 

you know

Here, I want to emphasize or to draw attention to what I’m saying. This is particularly used in speaking, and with some speakers it is often used as hesitators or gap-filling, and can be often said many times when talking without interruption.

  • You know, I can see myself working into my seventies. And why not?

  • You know, I still don’t know if ‘home-officing’ is recognised as a noun activity, or gerund as we English teachers like to call it, or –ing word as a lot of grammars like to call it these days as it also gets used as an adjective.

 

for goodness sake

I use ‘for goodness sake’ in my texts when I want to express – in writing – my annoyance or impatience, or to add force to a question, request or statement. Now some people use expressions which do the same job such as for God's sake, for heaven's sake, or for Pete's sake.

  • But life is short, for goodness sake, and you’ll realise this when you get to my age.

  • But I just didn’t get ‘Firestarter’. It started with some kind of synth riff that sounded like a series of klaxon calls, before a mad synthesised drumbeat kicked in and Flint doing his best to look as ghastly as possible. For goodness sake, how could you sing to that?

 

actually

I often use it to either introduce a new topic into a conversation, or when I jokingly want to correct myself or stop myself from writing something that may not be a good idea. I also use it to politely expressing an opinion.

  • My wife still looks particularly voluptuous even though she’s… actually, I’d better not say how old in case she reads this.

  • Actually, who does watch these things? Surprisingly, an awful lot of old people do.

 

on the whole

Although I rarely use this phrase (I can only find one example in my texts), this phrase is used to show that what I am writing or saying is true in general, but may not be true in every case, or I’m giving a general opinion or summary of something.

  • However, I generally find the mentality here less ‘breezy’ than people in the UK, but on the whole, staff are happy to help.

  • Although we’ve had some bad weather, on the whole, I’m perfectly happy at the way the work is progressing.

 

anyway

I write this when, for some reason, I need to get back to what I was writing about and not talk about something else, which is the impression I am giving in the sentences before.

  • …if you do a good job, then you’ll have a job. If you don’t, you won’t. Anyway, I decided to check a few forums to see what the public believes.

  • Anyway, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have mobile phones or smartphones because in the modern world we live in today they are very important when it comes to dealing with emergencies and keeping in contact with your children.

 

however

I use this adverb when I want to add a comment which contrasts with what was said before. It is also used if you want to add a comment that is surprising when compared to what was written before.

  • …from my perspective in Poland it hasn’t been too bad. However, I generally find the mentality here less ‘breezy’ than people in the UK, but on the whole, staff are happy to help.

  • This phenomenon exists in every country; however, it’s worth mentioning here as many of us are often unaware of what we’re doing.

 

now

While I do use this in the text to mean ‘the present time’, I also use it to bring the reader ‘back to the present’ as it can follow some text that is explaining something previously written or has gone off-topic for some reason.

  • Now, back to the subject.

  • Buying music was almost a sense of ceremony; on Saturday morning I’d go into town by bus taking my hard-saved pocket money, buy the disc in its 12-inch gatefold sleeve, come home, admire the artwork, remove the large black flat vinyl disc from its inner sleeve and putting it on the turntable, and then sitting down to absorb what I’ve spent a lot of time getting excited about. Now it’s … New album? Open Spotify, type it in, and there it is and you hear it.

 

in fact

This is used when I want to give more detailed information about what I’d just written. In actual fact or in point of fact are also used, but those last two examples I use very rarely in writing, if at all.

  • Busybodies are people who like to interfere in things they perhaps should not because they believe they are the right individuals to solve situations, but in fact they are very annoying.

  • In fact, for a word that has been taboo for six centuries or more, it seems that the F-word still holds much of the power in the swearing game.

 

of course

I use this adverb to add more stress to a statement I’m making, especially if the statement is obvious or definitely worth considering.

  • There are further reasons why people find it difficult expressing themselves with others. Of course, there are those who are more introverted, but those particular individuals are perhaps very good listeners, in turn making them more observant in watching and listening.

  • Of course, the underwear or trousers talk all depends upon which side of the Atlantic you’re asking from.

  • Remember your car needs petrol unless it runs on gas – LPG of course, which isn’t the same fuel used for gas ovens.

 

let’s put it this way

Also written as to put it another way, this is when I write something that comes straight from the head and perfectly sums up what I want to say at that point. But often what I’ve written perhaps isn’t strong enough to put across what I want to say, so this is my ‘I will write this in another way to further emphasise what I am saying’ phrase…

  • But I believe the subject of conversation is worth discussing because, well, let’s put it this way: there are many of us who aren’t that openly expressive and who are naturally introverted when it comes to face-to-face interaction with others in various situations.

  • There are thousands of individuals who like bashing really good and genuinely nice people. Let’s put it this way: a lot of people hate famous and/or successful people only because they are famous and/or successful and they’re jealous of this. Understand this fact.

  • The plupluperfect can be used effectively and imaginatively in written English, but do remember that it is not Standard English. Or to put it another way, you don’t have to worry about the plupluperfect too much.

mind you

This is an expression I sometimes use that helps qualify what I have just written in a previous statement. 

  • Between your belt and your eyes is what some speech gurus call the ‘power space’ – the area where you can make the most persuasive facial and hand gestures. Mind you, there are some speakers who go beyond that and get away with it thanks to their fame and personalities.

  • Many Americans still say the year in full rather than twenty-fourteen. Mind you, so do some Brits…

 

Can you think of any other examples? For sure, I will probably add to this list, particularly when I discover more good examples in my texts!

Home page    Features