Discourse markers

Discourse markers are small words and phrases whose job it is to organise, comment on or in some way frame what we are saying or writing. A common everyday example is the use of well in speech:
– A: So you live in Boston? B: Well, near Boston.
Well here shows that the speaker is aware he/she is changing the direction of the conversation in some way (not giving the expected ‘yes’ answer). In other words, well is a comment on what is being said. Another example is how teachers use words like right and okay to organise what is happening in a classroom:
– Teacher: Right/okay, let’s have a look at exercise 3.

Common markers to organise different stages of talk (as in the teacher example).
– Now, what shall we do next? So, would you like to come to the table now, please?
– Good, I’ll ring you on Thursday, then. Well then, what was it you wanted to talk about?
– Now then, I want you to look at this picture, [said by someone in control of the conversation, e.g. a teacher]
– Fine/Great, let’s leave it at that, then, shall we?

In these mini-dialogues, the markers in bold modify or comment on what is being said.

A: It’s cold, isn’t it? A: What’s her number?
B: Yeah. B: Let me see, I have it here
A: Mind you, it is November, so it’s not surprising. somewhere…
[an afterthought – however] [a hesitation – gaining time]
A: It’s quite a problem… A: And he said he was go –
B: Listen/Look, why don’t B: Well, that’s typical!
you let me sort it out? A: Hang on / Hold on! Let me
A: Would you? Thanks a lot. tell you what he said!
[introducing a suggestion/point] [preventing an interruption]

Here are some other similar markers.
– I can’t do that. You see, I’m only the secretary, [explaining]
– He was, you know, sort of… just standing there, [hesitation]

Common markers in written English for organising a formal text.

– First / Firstly / First of all, we must consider… } for lists
– Next, it is important to remember that… }
– Finally/Lastly, we should look at… [NB not ‘at last’]
– In summary, we can say that… [summing up the main points]
– In conclusion, I should like to say that… [finishing the text]

Markers for explaining, rephrasing, etc., in speech and writing.

– Memorising words requires reinforcement; in other words / that is to say, you have to study the same words over and over again.
– Some words are hard to say, for example / for instance, ‘crisps’.
– She is, as it were / so to speak, living in a world of her own.
[make what you are saying sound less definite/precise]