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This question already has an answer here:

In this sentence:

If you're going to take that pie I just baked, why, you've got a lot of nerve.

what role does the word "why" take? I know I've heard it in conversational speech enough to know it's legitimate, but it looks really odd in print.

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marked as duplicate by bib, tchrist, RegDwigнt Jun 26 '13 at 14:01

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

heh, I agree, but it's really hard to search for something when the only clue you have is the word "why". :-) – Jason S Jun 26 '13 at 13:57
I object to this being marked as a duplicate! The supposed previous question that is duplicated asks WHEN the usage began. This question is asking about the grammatical terminology for the usage. Related, yes, but no way is this a duplicate. – Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 18:16
up vote 2 down vote accepted

It's an exclamation (or perhaps more formally, interjection), either in ODO's sense 2 or OED's IV.7.b.


1 expressing surprise or indignation: why, that’s absurd!
2 used to add emphasis to a response: ‘You think so?’ ‘Why, yes.’



7. Used interjectionally, before a sentence or clause.
a. As an expression of surprise (sometimes only momentary or slight; sometimes involving protest), either in reply to a remark or question, or on perceiving something unexpected.

1893 M. Pemberton Iron Pirate i, Mary looked up suddenly..and said,..‘Why, I believe I've been asleep!’

b. Emphasizing or calling more or less abrupt attention to the statement following (as in the apodosis of a sentence), in opposition to a possible or vaguely apprehended doubt or objection.

1869 G. J. Whyte-Melville Songs & Verses 93 So he made for the gate,..And the chain being round it, why—over he flew!


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It's a pragmatic particle, like well, see, look, listen, now, oh, um, er, ah. It contributes no semantic meaning to the sentence, but indicates the pragmatic interpretation that the speaker intends. – John Lawler Jun 26 '13 at 20:42

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