discourse markers

Discourse means ‘pieces of language longer than a sentence’. Some words and expressions are used to show how discourse is constructed. They can show the connection between something we have said and something we are going to say; or they can show the connection between what somebody else has said and what we are saying; or they can show what we think about what we are saying; or why we are talking. Here are some common examples of these ‘discourse markers’.

  • by the way
  • We use by the way to introduce a new subject of conversation.
    1 Nice day. 1 Yes, isn’t it? By the way have you heard from Peter?’

  • talking about …
  • We use this to join one piece of conversation to another.
    I played tennis with Mary yesterday.’ ‘Oh, yes. Talking about Mary, do you know she’s going to get married?’

  • firstly, secondly, thirdly; first of all; to start with
  • We use these to show the structure of what we are saying.
    Firstly, we need somewhere to live. Secondly, we need to find work. And thirdly, . . .
    ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘Well, to start with I’m going to buy a newspaper. ‘

  • all the same, yet, still, on the other hand, however
  • These show a contrast with something that was said before.
    ‘She’s not working very well.’ All the same, she’s trying hard. ‘
    He says he’s a socialist, and yet he’s got two houses and a Rolls Royce.
    It’s not much of aflat. Still, it’s home.
    ‘Shall we go by car or train?’ ‘Well, it’s quicker by train. On the other hand, it’s cheaper by car.’
    Jane fell down the stairs yesterday. However, she didn’t really hurt herself.

  • anyway, anyhow, at any rate
  • These can mean ‘what was said before is not important — the main point is:
    I’m not sure what time I’ll arrive: maybe half past seven or a quarter to eight. Anyway, I’ll be there before eight.
    What a terrible experience! Anyhow, you’re all right — that’s the main thing.

  • mind you
  • To introduce an exception to what was said before.
    I don’t like the job at all, really, Mind you, the money’s good.

  • I mean
  • We say this when we are going to make things clearer, or give more details.
    It was a terrible evening. I mean, they all sat round and talked politics for hours.

  • kind of, sort of
  • To show that we are not speaking very exactly.
    I sort of think we ought to start going home, perhaps, really.

  • let me see, well
  • To give the speaker time to think.
    ‘How much are you selling it for?’ Well, let me see, . . . ‘

  • well
    • To make agreement or disagreement ‘softer’, less strong.
      ‘Do you like it?’ Well, yes, it’s all right. ‘
      ‘Can I borrow your car?’ Well, no, I’m afraid you can’t. ‘
  • I suppose
    • To make a polite enquiry.
      I suppose you re not free this evening?
      To show unwilling agreement.
      ‘Can you help me?’ I suppose so.
  • I’m afraid
    • To say that one is sorry to give bad news.
      Do you speak German?’ I’m afraid I don’t.’