I am reading a book and I am finding this kind of expressions:

  • 'Why, people in perfect health act in the same way too,'

  • 'Why, are you all afraid of me?'

  • 'What nonsense he is talking! Why, you are in a sentimental mood today, are you?'

  • 'And why should they compensate me? Why, he was drunk and threw himself under the horses'

My wondering is about the use of the bold "why". I understand it as an expression, perhaps equivalent to "ah?" or "what?", but I am afraid my understanding is not correct or inaccurate. Help please!

2 Answers 2


It's an interjection "to express surprise, hesitation or impatience."
Link: WordReference


You're perfectly correct.

Try substituting "What's the matter," "What" (you mention it yourself), "No way," "Look," "Whoa!" etc.

  • 1
    It is the first time I see such expressions. Is it currently use in the english literature or in a coloquial conversation?
    – Bur Nor
    Jul 26, 2018 at 17:49
  • 1
    I could imagine Jane Austen (18t century literature) using it, but it might also be used in some dialects too. I've got a feeling you might come accross it in some old classic Hollywood movies. People I know use it sometimes for fun/ironically.
    – S Conroy
    Jul 26, 2018 at 18:18
  • 1
    Would you also say (without irony) Why! Are you afraid of me?
    – S Conroy
    Jul 26, 2018 at 18:33
  • 1
    Yes, that's how I see it too. I wonder if US Americans still use it. I could easily picture, say, Kathrin Hepburn in an old movies saying something like 'why, you're all cold. What's the matter?'
    – S Conroy
    Jul 26, 2018 at 19:23
  • 1
    In the American South where there is no wine-whine merger, this why is pronounced as the letter y, while interrogative why has the historic wh-sound.
    – KarlG
    Jul 26, 2018 at 22:22

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