English Intonation and Interjections

Intonation is the movement of your voice up and down.


In English, the voice moves UP:

1 In yes/no questions

For example:

Is it okay? Do you like it? Is he coming? Are you going now? Has the plane already arrived? Would you like me to help you?


2 In lists/enumerations

For example:

I went to the supermarket and bought some apples, bananas, bread, milk, yoghurt, pasta and sauce.


3 To show that your sentence is not finished

I decided to buy a house…(voice up oh the word ‘house’)… but then I changed my mind. (voice down on the word ‘mind’)



In English, the voice moves DOWN:

1 In information questions

For example:

Where are you going? What are you doing? When is he coming? Why did you come to Canada?


2  At the end of a finished sentence

For example:

I like it. It’s beautiful outside today. I will come on Monday. He is wearing a jacket.


In some languages, voice moves up and up and up. This may be confusing for the native speakers because they will be listening for your voice to move down to know when you finished your idea. Make sure your voice moves down on the last word of the sentence.

In English, the voice moves up and down a lot. In some cultures, people are taught to try to reduce the movements of their voice and to sound more monotone. Monotone is not good for English because people find it difficult to understand monotone speech. You need to learn to speak in waves – up and down. Add more vocal variety and people will understand you better.



Use Interjections – show feelings in your speech

Examples of interjections: Wow! Ouch! Hey! Oh, Hmm, Uh-huh

Interjections make your English sound natural. They show feelings. Canadians like to show good/positive feelings with everybody. They usually only show negative feelings with the people they trust (friends).


Ah! Aah! (long aaaaa)  – “Aah! It’s so nice and warm here. It’s freezing outside.” (the feeling of delight or relief)


Ahem (a – hem) – the sound of clearing your throat, meaning: “Attention, please!”


Achoo (a – choo) –  the sound of sneezing, usually the conversation goes like this:

A: Achoo! Excuse me.

B: Bless you.

A: Thank you.


Aww (pronounced long, stretched out)  2 meanings:

a) “Aww! How sweet!  //  What an adorable puppy!”

b) “Aww! That’s too bad!  //  I’m sorry to hear this happened to you.”


Blah-blah- blah  Meaning: nonsense talk, I was disappointed when I heard this (this is a negative interjection, so be careful and only use it when with your friends)


Er (Errrr – long sound)  – the sound made by somebody when they are thinking Meaning: “Let me think.” (filled pause)


Duh (d – uh) Meaning: “It’s stupid, it’s too obvious. I am annoyed.” (only use this interjection with your friends)


Eh? (e – i) Canadian interjection Meaning: “Do you agree with me? Right?” It was used a lot 20-30 years ago but now the younger Canadians don’t use it so often. They prefer to ask “Right?” (for example: “It’s so cold today, eh? It’s so cold today, right?”)


Eww (e – uuu) Meaning: “That’s disgusting!”


Geez! Meaning: “I can’t believe it!” (disbelief or feeling annoyed) This is a changed form of “Jesus!” and is used with a negative meaning


Hey  – to call attention “Hey! Where are you going?”


Hm or Hmm – “Hmm, let me think.” Meaning: “I’m confused // I wonder // I’m curious // I’m skeptical.”


Huh? – surprise, disbelief, confusion  “Huh? Repeat that? What did you say?” This is not a polite form, so only use it with friends.


Oh  “Oh, I see.”  Meaning: “I understand.”


Oops  Meaning: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to do it.” (when you did something accidentally, small mistake)  Children like to use it, so don’t use it with your manager.


Ouch!   Meaning: “It’s painful, it hurt.”


Phew  Meaning: “I’m relieved that it’s over.”


Meh  Meaning: “Whatever. I don’t care. Who cares.” (this interjection is negative, so only use it with your friends)


Shh  Meaning: “Be quiet!”


Psst – a sound used to get someone’s attention without alerting others, for example to tell a secret, usually followed by whispering


Shoo! – a sound used to scare an unwanted animal away


Ta-da! – a sound of triumph, used to call attention to something remarkable “Ta-da! I finished this puzzle! It was not easy.”


tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk  Meaning: “I disapprove of it.” Please be careful because this sound has a very strong negative meaning in Canada. It means contempt. In many countries this sound is not so strong, but in Canada people might be unpleasantly surprised when they hear it. It’s better only to use it with your friends.


Uh-huh (pronounced a-ha)   Meaning: “Yes. // I agree.”


Oh-oh Meaning: “I’m concerned, worried”. For example: “Oh-oh, it’s starting to rain. We might have to cancel going out.” Similar to “Oh no” but less strong.


Wow!  Meaning: “It’s amazing! I’m surprised!”


Yay! (pronounced yei )   Meaning: “I’m so happy!” the sound of cheer, approval, congratulations, triumph


Yuck  Meaning: “That’s disgusting.” Same meaning as “Eww” and same meaning as “Ick”. The word ‘yucky’ means ‘disgusting’ (used by children mostly).


Yummy   Meaning: “That’s delicious”.  This word is used by children. Adults say “Mmmm…” to show that they like the food.


Yeah   Meaning: ‘Yes’. Sometimes means a strong ‘yes’. It is used very often in Canada to show friendliness in conversations, but ‘yeah’ is still informal so not recommended for a job interview or other first time business conversations.

Yup and Nope mean ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. These words are Canadian, friendly and informal. They are used with friends but not in business. The sound ‘p’ at the end is made by closing your lips.


Well,… Meaning: “I’m thinking. or  Let me think.” This word is used to introduce a remark.


Um… this is a sound that means “I’m thinking.” (filled pause, same as “Err”)