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Spelling Interjections and Exclamations

May 29, 2014 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 30, 2014

No long article on how-tos today, just a spelling list. And you thought you were done with these when you left middle school.

The words on this list are exclamations or interjections, sounds that characters make in reaction to events or dialogue or revelations. They are usually used at the beginning of a line of dialogue. They could also be used for character thoughts. Some are standard words, others are sounds used as words. (Some words have additional meanings and uses beyond those noted here.)

Keep this list handy for those odd sound words and interjections that everybody uses but no one can quite decide how to spell. Yes, you can create your own interjections or modify common ones, but be consistent within a story and across a series of stories. Add them, especially those with unusual spellings, to your style sheets.

There are options—you can extend some of these words, dramatizing them, by repeating letters, or you can draw out the sound by using hyphens. But there’s no need to go overboard by adding more than two or three repeating letters.

If I forgot any, leave a note in the comments and I’ll add them in. I purposely left out clearly recognizable words that had standard spellings. If anyone knows battle cries for military branches other than those in the U.S., let me know.



aah—drawn out sound of pleasure, relief, or relaxation; the plural is often paired with ooh for an exclamation of wonder or surprise (oohs and aahs)

ah—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; variations are eruh, and um; also an interjection signifying understanding (Ah, I get it)

aha—exclamation of discovery or realization

ahh—exclamation of surprise or fright; also a variant of aah used as a sound of pleasure, relief, or relaxation

argh—exclamation of frustration, comparable to rats or drat; sometimes used for a pirate’s exclamation

arrr—pirate’s sound of agreement; pirate’s exclamation

aw—mild exclamation of protest, disappointment, or entreaty (Aw, I didn’t mean it.)

aww—exclamation over the cuteness of something

bah—old-fashioned exclamation of dismissal or contempt; compare to the contemporary word so  (Bah, who cares? Bah! Humbug!)

beh—variation of bah

blah—interjection used as filler (typically written three times) to show that either someone droned on about a topic or what had been said was predictable and/or commonplace and all parties now listening understand what was said without it being necessary to repeat what was said (And then she moaned about her husband. You know, blah blah blah.)

blech—mild to medium exclamation of disgust

blergh—an interjection of any combination of disgust, boredom, dissatisfaction, and other negative emotions; also blurgh and blargh; probably from a combination of bleh and argh and/or ugh.

bwahaha—less common variant of mwahaha; often bwah-ha-ha

criminy—mild swear word, somewhat old-fashioned; euphemism for Christ

duh—exclamation of exasperation or disdain over the explanation of something obvious

eh—mild exclamation of unconcern or indifference (Eh, who cares.); solicitation to repeat something (Eh, what was that?); question tag (You heard about it, eh?)

er—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; may be followed by an ellipsis (Er . . . I’m not sure.); variations are ah, um, and uh 

erm—variation of er (I’ve never seen this in a published book that I can recall and never heard a real person say it, but it shows up in a lot of manuscripts I see)

ew—exclamation of disgust, typically over something nasty; can be made more dramatic by repeating letters (Ewww, that’s foul. Eeew, that stinks.)

geez—exclamation of exasperation; a mild oath to be used in place of Jesus; also sheesh

hmm—placeholder interjection signifying that the speaker is thinking or considering a response to what has been said

hooah—U.S. Army sound of agreement or affirmation; battle cry; [pronounced hua, accent on hoo]

hooyah—U.S. Navy sound of agreement or affirmation; battle cry

huh—interjection used to signify a dawning revelation or admittance of ignorance over a piece of information (Huh, is that so.); also used as a question tag to solicit agreement (I guess this means we’re leaving now, huh?)

humph—mild exclamation of disagreement or reluctant agreement; also exclamation of displeasure; variations include hmph, hrmph, harumph, harumpf, harrumph; old-fashioned and often put in the mouths of elderly men and crotchety women

hrmph, hmph, harumph, harumpf, harrumph—variations of humph

ick—exclamation of disgust; also yuck

meh—old-fashioned mild interjection of dismissal or indifference, much like beh

mm-hmm—murmur of agreement that may also indicate inattention; much like uh-huh

mmm—murmur of pleasure

mwahaha—mock-sinister laugh, often used for a villain; also mwah-ha-ha; variant is bwahaha

nah—informal no; opposite of yeah; [pronounced two ways: like the n-a in nap or the n-o in not rather than as nay]

nuh-uh—childish argumentative no; opposite of yuh-huh; [stress on uh

oh—word signifying comprehension or surprise (often overused in dialogue); can be drawn out by repeating letters (Ohhh, it’s so beautiful.);  [pronounced like the letter o]

oof—like oomph, often comic or exaggerated sound of breath being knocked from someone from a blow to the belly; [a short sound, usually not changed by adding letters]

ooh—exclamation of wonder or surprise; often paired with aah (oohs and aahs); [rhymes with Sue and dew]

oomph—sound of exhalation of breath, often after a collision (may be comic)

oorah—U.S. Marine sound of agreement or affirmation; battle cry

ow—exclamation of pain

pfft—old-fashioned sound of dismissal or unconcern (not common in contemporary fiction); also phfft

phew—exclamation of relief, often used humorously in contemporary fiction

phooey—mild interjection used to show disagreement or disbelief; also a mild curse word akin to darn or drat, but more genteel

pshaw—old-fashioned exclamation of contempt or disagreement (not common in contemporary fiction except in historicals and as deliberate reference to its use in the past); [the p is pronounced]

psst—(usually) quiet interjection used to gain the attention of someone else

sheesh—exclamation of exasperation; a mild oath used in place of Jesus; also geez

shh or shhh—command to keep quiet, often accompanied by finger to lips

shssh—variation of shhh

shush—command to keep quiet, a combination of shh and hush; more a true word than a sound

ta-da—exclamation to express success or to point attention at something

ugh—exclamation of mild disgust

uh—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; may be followed by an ellipsis (Uh, I think it’s that one. Uh . . . I’m not sure that what you’re saying is true.); variations are ah, er, and um

uh, uh, uh—command, often to young children, to stop doing something (Uh, uh, uh, don’t touch that.)

uh huh—interjection signifying understanding and sometimes, but not always, agreement (use it to show someone is saying they understand what is being said even though they might not agree with what is said); informal yes; also uh-huh

uh oh—exclamation of dismay or anticipation of something bad happening; used often by young children; also uh-oh

uh uh—informal no; also uh-uh and unh-unh

um—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; variations are ah, er, and uh; often repeated as um, um, um (Um, um, um, I’m thinking) and stretched out as ummm

unh-unh—informal no; variant of uh uh and uh-uh

whoa—exclamation of surprise or shock (not woah)

yay—exclamation of triumph or victory (Yay, we won!)

yea—yes;  used in the context of a spoken vote; rhymes with and is often paired with nay

yeah—contemporary informal yes; opposite of nah (Yeah, I get it.); [does not rhyme with  nay, and I freely admit I don’t know how to explain how this one sounds—how about a link to Merriam-Webster, which has a decent recording of the word?]

yech—variation of yuck, an exclamation of disgust

yeow—exclamation of pain, shock, or surprise; also yow

yikes—exclamation of (negative) surprise or shock; comic

yow—variation of yeow, an exclamation of pain, shock, or surprise

yowza—exclamation of pleasure or pleased surprise or a pleasant shock

yuck—exclamation of disgust; also ick

yuh-huh—argumentative or insistent childish yes; [accent on huh]; opposite of nuh-uh



Tags: ,     Posted in: Grammar & Punctuation, How to

52 Responses to “Spelling Interjections and Exclamations”

  1. Claudia says:

    Geez, I love this list! Just what I needed. Yeehaw!

  2. ‘erm—variation of er (I’ve never seen this in a published book that I can recall and never heard a real person say it, but it shows up in a lot of manuscripts I see)’
    I have heard this a lot from Scottish and Irish speakers. It’s quite common , I believe.

    • Thanks, Mary. So Scottish and Irish speakers and anyone who might be familiar with the word from them could be expected to know and use it. Great information.

      • I’ve never confirmed this, but I’m convinced that “er” and “erm,” which tend to show up in British lit and older American novels are simply meant to be pronounced like “uh” and “um.” Most variations of British, Scottish, and Irish accents tend to pronounce words ending in “-er” closer to “-ah” or “-uh.” Part of the reason I think this is I’ve never in my life heard anyone (American, English, Irish, Australian, etc.) say “er” or “erm”–at least not pronouncing the r. So whenever I see “er” in print, I just think “uh.” Is that your sense? Terrific and very useful list, by the way.

  3. Ali Turnbull says:

    I’ve noticed there are three ways to say “cool’.

    Short – ‘kul’ = thank you
    Medium – ‘coool’ – that’s clever, why didn’t I think of that?’
    Long – ‘cooo-earl’ that is really kind of you, mum, and I love you forever! Mwah!

  4. Mary says:

    Pirates say arrrrr! The emphasis is on the “r” sound.

    Also I understood meh to have come from Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons). It’s interesting that it is seen as an old fashioned word. Another Simpsonism is d’oh.

    Missing is blergh! for the sound one makes when frustrated mixed with surprised and Phfft for the sound one makes to show dismissal or disdain.

    • Mary, pirates do say arrr—I don’t know how I had aaar instead. Thanks for the heads-up.

      The Simpsons popularized meh, but it’s been around longer. And I did consider adding d’oh, but that one seems limited to the Simpsons and to references to them. That is, it’s not typically a common interjection used by others. Though it certainly could be.

      I’ll add blergh and its alternate spellings. And I’ll add the alternate spelling of pfft.

      Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. TP Hogan says:

    I quickly scrolled through the list surprised it was so long. I read it thinking I’ll never know half of these. Nope, not true. I know most of them. Goes to show how much of them you use in every day speech that doesn’t register when you’re speaking.
    Thanks for the list though, it’s a great resource. (It must have taken you a while to compile – wow!)

  6. Polly says:

    Hmm, what would you say about “c’mon?” Is it an interjection? An exclamation? I am undecided, but thought I’d bring it up for discussion.

  7. I am thinking that the expression is used an expression of disbelief, (perhaps sarcastically or challengingly) or disagreement etc. and not to be taken literally. Therefore it most likely would be an interjection, a response in conversation/ dialogue. What do others think?

  8. How do you correctly spell that clicking sound you make with the tip of your tongue against the front of your palate to express disapproval (or sometimes thinking, or “no,” if you’re Italian)? It’s usually spelled “tut-tut” but then people reading aloud pronounce it Tut Tut instead of “t-t-t,” which is closer to its real sound.

    • Tracy, I’m stumped on this one. Tch, tch, tch? If anyone’s got a suggestion, let us know.

      This may be one time you want to explain the sound rather than trying to duplicate it. If it’s important enough for the reader to understand, you don’t want them hearing the wrong sound. But if they have to try to figure it out, you’ve lost them. It’s not worth destroying the fictional bubble just to try to write a sound correctly. So maybe something like . . .

      Bart made that clicky sound with his tongue pushed up against the roof of his mouth, the same sound his Italian grandmother made. I liked when she used it against him. Hated it when he turned it on me.

      Tut-tut definitely doesn’t work.

      I’d love to hear what others have tried.

    • Joyce says:

      In the novel Indian in the Cupboard, Lynn Reid Banks had the lady in the cafeteria tut, tut, tutting.

    • A few years ago I was in a rural part of Central Africa talking with local friends about the African clicking language, and they explained that it is a way of communicating simple things between people who don’t speak the same languages. They demonstrated how to say things like “come here” etc, then one said “oh, and t-t-t (shaking his finger at me) means you just did something very bad!” I told him that means the exact same thing in America!
      I wonder if anyone has created an alphabet for clicking?

  9. Was checking your blogs for verification (back me up info) on something completely! different and saw this….what great fun!

    I grew up using “jeez”, might be a Midwest thing.

    I work almost exclusively for Oz authors, so can attest to the use of “erm” – one author told me it was a ‘real’ noise, when someone is stuck between “er” and “um”.

    Thanks for the list – for the blog – for all the effort your site reveals. Will return to peruse more when latest project is complete.

    • Maria, I guess I need to listen harder for “erm.” I really don’t think I’ve ever heard it spoken.

      I’ll add jeez. I’ve got geez, but the alternate spelling is good. Thanks for the reminder.

      I’m glad you like the blog—come back any time.

  10. Shena says:

    How would you spell the sound of “I don’t know” as in when one shrugs their shoulders and keeps their mouth closed and says “mm nn mm”??

    • Shena, I admit I’m stumped on this one. I can hear it and vocalize it, but I honestly wouldn’t know how to write it. And I can say I don’t recall ever seeing it in a book.

      I know that you’re looking for a specific spelling, but you might have to write around this one, using a bit of description rather than the sound itself.

      I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. But if you do come up with some good ideas, maybe you’ll drop back in and share them with us.

    • Bel says:

      Hi Shena, I think what you’re looking for is probably too vague a sound to have a spelling for it. The closest thing I’m aware of is “iunno”, to express a similar sentiment.

  11. Leanna says:

    The only one I couldn’t find, because I was specifically looking for it, is the sound we make when we see something curious, or that we haven’t seen before. It’s a higher-toned (descending) huh, but more nasal, I think. You know what I mean?

    • Leanna, I had to practice for a few minutes, but I finally figured out the sound you were going for. But I can honestly say it’s not one that I’ve ever seen written. You might have to use a description rather than try to duplicate the sound.

  12. Sue Fordyce says:

    One of my medical transcribers had to spell the sound of a kiss. Any suggestions? In another report, another transcriber had to spell of a spit. I wish the doctors would give us the spellings rather than just make the sound, but that’s the life in the transcription world!

    • Sue, what a task. Hmm . . .

      For spit, maybe spttt Or sfittt.

      For a kiss? That could be a lot of different sounds.

      A long and drawn-out soggy sound, something like pwuuuu-p? Where the final P sound is separate from the other sounds.

      Or a shorter similar sound? pwuh

      Something more common, a very short kiss? Maybe the kind where the kisser actually makes a sound on purpose? muah or mwah You could add extra letters to draw the sound out if necessary.

      The sound of a toddler kissing his mother? (The same sound you could make kissing the back of your hand.) Mmmm-wuh.

      I can also hear that wet-sounding puckering air kiss that men make at passing women, but I have no idea how you’d spell it. It would start with a P, but beyond that, I’m at a loss.

      Mwah seems to be a common option, but that may not necessarily fit the kind of kiss you need.

      Is there a site for transcriptionists where they might have a list of such sounds? You’d think that someone would put such a list together.

      If you get the chance, let us know if you find your answer.

      • Sue says:

        I’ve not found a list like this on the main medical transcription sites. This has been a real helper. “Pwuh” is pretty close for kiss, but I finally just used “kissing sound” and “spit.” Thanks for sharing! Sue

  13. Olga says:

    how do you spell the sound of disgust where the tongue is on the ridge of the roof of the mouth and there is a “snick” sound? thanks

    • I think that’s the same sound I asked about on June 2, 2014–got some good answers then! You might want to check them out.

      • Tracy, what did you end up using? I’m curious.

        And Olga, I can definitely hear this sound, but don’t know how it should be written. The opening sound sounds a bit like a combination of t and ch to me. And tut might get close to the spelling, but I admit that when I see tut written, I don’t imagine or hear the sound that you’re describing. I read tut as King Tut. It doesn’t have that wet sound that often accompanies the disgust sound you and Tracy have described.

        • I didn’t need it for a specific reason–just curious! I think that people have often spelled it “tsk, tsk,” which has led to others saying, “tisk, tisk”! Dickens or someone wrote “tchah,” and then there’s “tut, tut,” as has been mentioned.

  14. Phil H says:

    This is going to sound tacky to a lot of perfectionists, but when in doubt for muttered colloquialisms and verbal expressives? Hukt on foniks werks fer mee.

  15. Estella says:

    Very useful.

  16. Sonny says:

    Thanks for the list. I have been looking for such a list for a while. Very helpful!

  17. Love this list! I didn’t see any listing for whee and wahoo. Are they so close to real words they don’t qualify?

    And, just to put in my two cents worth of the tongue-clicking sound of disapproval, I see tch-tch used a lot. It works for me as a reader.

    • Kathleen, I didn’t think to include whee, wahoo, yahoo, and the like since their spellings are fairly standard and, as you said, they’re pretty much accepted as words. But maybe I should add them.

      I always read the tch or tich as tick, which I know is wrong. But I never hear what I know the sound should be. A quirk of reading, I guess.

  18. I really enjoyed this list. Thank you.

  19. sarah curtis says:

    Great list, super helpful. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

  20. Crystal says:

    I know it’s not the most important reason to check for spelling, but I had to search (uh huh) for my eight year old daughter. She had heard it on a movie, and like me, curiosity got the better of her. I was surprised…. and a LITTLE excited to find your list. Also, if you have a better idea towards !whew hoo! (From the movie Frozen), I am all ears. The shop keeper says “Whew hoo, hi family!”- But… he raises his pitch significantly at the end of Whew and hoo. My daughter suggested it may sound better spelled as You Who!???? This list is awesome, Beth, and Thank You for all the hard work and effort put into this simple but amazingly useful compilation of “Sounds we make but can’t find the words” !

  21. Georgie W. says:

    Thank you so much for the list, Beth. As a court reporter, I come across many of these “words” on a regular basis; and even after twenty years in the industry, I am still puzzled how I should spell “sounds.”

    I will definitely be sharing your site with my fellow reporters.

  22. Pamela T says:

    Thank you for publishing this list .
    Just a comment about “hua” or “hooah.”
    I discovered that it is an acronym that stands for “Heard Understood Acknowledged” yet it is said as a word in response to an order .
    I don’t know that I would use it but I found it fascinating.

  23. Alex says:

    Thanks, good list, the one I was looking for was *Ahem*

  24. Alex says:

    The one I always need but don’t have a solution for yet is
    the you-gh
    usual shortened