What is the technical term for the part of speech in bold?

Look, I'm not sure what you've been told, but carrots don't glow in the dark unless they mean business.


Listen, the only thing keeping him alive right now is that carrot.

I want to find some information on this kind of word for a class I am teaching. I want to find more examples and instances of usage.

The problem is that I'm finding it impossible to come up with a search term that correctly encompasses it. I'm sure if I knew the technical word I could find more information myself, but just searching with "look" and "listen" is hopeless, because they are such common words.

From what I have been able to ascertain so far, the answer appears to fall somwehere between the camps of interjection and discourse marker, but not into either exclusively or perfectly.

Anything to point me in the right direction would be appreciated.

EDIT: Just to be clear, I need to know the technical term so that I can search effectively for explanations and usage examples. I will then use these to craft an explanation that is easy for the students to understand. I am not looking to use the technical vocabulary to explain things directly to students.


Not sure enough to post it as an answer, but it may help others with a similar problem to know that term attention-getting device seems to be used a fair amount. Here are some interesting (though slightly tangential) resources I found:

Also found some good information here which helped me form my teaching plan, though again not precisely what I was looking for:

2 Answers 2


These words (Look, Listen) are imperatives used as interjections. You can replace them with Hey! or Gosh! or Cowabunga, Buffalo Bob!, or other exclamations, and the effect is essentially the same: Pay attention to what I'm saying!

[EDITED]: Using the term discourse marker is probably pointless because it's quite technical and doesn't help people understand why Look and Listen are used or how they function in those sentences. It also doesn't help EFL students speak better English. Terms like imperative, interjection, and exclamation are standard fare in their secondary school and university English classes and textbooks. I think that they don't need more than those to talk about these words and their function. The point, IMHO, is to teach them how to use the language, not to teach them how to talk about it, unless, of course, you're teaching a linguistics course. But in that case, I think you'd be a professional linguist yourself and wouldn't need to ask this question.

My experience in EFL classes in Japan (10 years) and Taiwan (17 years) has been that students want to learn "useful" English (whatever they think that means) and because they're taught English grammar rules from primary school on, they ask for technical grammatical information: they seem to believe that knowing the terms and the rules will help them, but this is patently false, as anyone who's lived and worked in both those countries knows.

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    +1 just for Cowabunga, Buffalo Bob... Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 11:00
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    Discourse marker is no more vague than adverb; and there is a precise definition and tests that can be applied. Interjection explains precisely nothing. Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 13:37
  • @JohnL: For a professional linguist discourse marker has a precise definition, but for other than linguistics students, I'd say the term is meaningless. Yes, adverb is a garbage-can term: "Some would go so far as to call adverbs a 'catch-all' category that includes all words that do not belong to one of the other parts of speech". Although it's not explanatory, interjection & examples thereof are standard fare in ESL/EFL & native-speaker English classes. New terms merely add new terms.
    – user21497
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 13:55
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    Pragmatic marker subclass attention grabber / focusser Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 16:18
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    @Bill Sorry, there seems to have been a severe misunderstanding here. I would never in a million years dream of using a technical term like "discourse marker" to explain something to ordinary students. I merely needed to know the technical terms so I could search more effectively for usage examples and explanations online. Although I like this answer, it still didn't solve my problem; despite refining my searches, I cannot find any specific examples of the usage I described. I know the fault must be with my search, because this is not an obscure usage. So... still need help :-/ Commented May 1, 2013 at 3:17

They are both discourse markers. There are almost no specific articles about their use as discourse markers in English, but they are listed often in more generic works on discourse markers. Their function as discourse markers is usually identified as "attention getters". One of the few articles written about "look", is: 'From matrix clause to pragmatic marker - The history of look-forms', by Laurel J. Brinton in Journal of Historical Pragmatics 2:2. 2001. (pp. 177–199). Another function "look" can have, is to introduce reported speech. There is an article by Susan Blackwell (I don't remember the title, but you can find it in Google Books) who identifies this function.

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