What would these words be called, and are there any related rules on how to use them and what they each mean?

  • @user067531 If the OP would like to include "er..." and "lala" as well (hint to OP: please clarify ;-) ), it would go beyond mere exclamations. The answers seem to indicate that there isn't a single term for "anything that is not a word". Great question. Jan 22, 2020 at 10:45
  • 2
    Which of the off-topic criteria in the help center does this question match? Naming? Jan 22, 2020 at 14:23
  • 1
    @WS2 I was merely quoting the post author ("non-words"). There does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of "word". True, even the interjection er has a dictionary entry. I'm a bit at a loss now -- the distinction between the OP's examples and "normal words" seems intuitive to me but may be linguistically nonsensical. Jan 22, 2020 at 14:36
  • 3
    @RegDwigнt it appears you haven't understood the question, or even thoroughly read it.
    – hobbs
    Jan 22, 2020 at 16:09
  • 1
    This is three questions in one: 1. What are these words called?, 2. Are there rules on how to use them?, 3. What do they each mean? I think only the first question can be answered in a unified way. For question 3, look each word up in a dictionary: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ha#Interjection, en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ugh#Interjection, en.wiktionary.org/wiki/huh#Interjection
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 1, 2020 at 3:18

7 Answers 7


They are exclamations.


a word that expresses sudden pain, surprise, anger, excitement, happiness, or other emotion:

"Ouch," "hey," and "wow" are exclamations.

(Cambridge Dictionary)


Exclamations (also called interjections) often stand on their own, and in writing they are usually followed by an exclamation mark rather than a full stop:

  • How wonderful!

  • Ow! That hurt!


  • 2
    I agree that they're exclamations, bit I don't think "ugh" (mentioned by the OP) and "wow" are in quite the same category. People do consciously choose to say or write both of them, but "ugh" is also often used to represent the sound of an involuntary cough or grunt, a noise that isn't really a spoken word. Also "wow" can be used as a verb.
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 22, 2020 at 2:48
  • 4
    @nnnnnn In my vocabulary, ugh is an involuntary exclamation of disgust. Nowadays it's sometimes rendered as yuck. Jan 22, 2020 at 9:03
  • 1
    @KateBunting I'm not sure "ugh" is a direct synonym of "yuck" - though I appreciate you did say "sometimes". OED example of ugh - 1855 R. Browning Childe Roland xxi It may have been a water-rat I speared, But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek. Does ^yuck" works with that one?
    – WS2
    Jan 22, 2020 at 9:18
  • 1
    @WS2 No, I wasn't suggesting that at all. Yuck is sometimes used (e.g. in modern children's books) to represent the disgusted reaction which we traditionally rendered as ugh. Jan 22, 2020 at 9:28
  • @KateBunting The OED does have an entry for yuck (yuk) and gives two senses - A An expression of strong distaste or disgust. e,g, What a buyer says when seeing the wallpaper of a house they are inspecting; and B. Messy, unpleasant, or distasteful material. e.g. custard on kippers. It is even more recent than I had suspected - first entries 1966. My own sense is that yuck filled an exclamation gap which was not previously provided.
    – WS2
    Jan 22, 2020 at 10:21

Aren't they interjections?

According to the Wikipedia article, this category includes exclamations and hesitation markers as well.

  • Didn't anyone else here watch Schoolhouse Rock?
    – user227518
    Jan 22, 2020 at 10:16
  • this is the correct answer
    – hvertous
    Jan 22, 2020 at 13:47

Linguistically, they can be called vocables:

a sound that is used in a particular language, especially one that is not considered a word, for example a sound such as "la" used in music or an exclamation such as "huh"

(Cambridge Dictionary).

Another word which may be a little bit more recognizable outside of a linguistics context is vocalization/vocalisation, which means

a sound that is produced with the voice, or the act of producing sounds with the voice

(Cambridge Dictionary)

although that has some other, unwanted meanings, including the addition of vowels (e.g. to Hebrew text which is written without them), the calls of animals, or as a synonym for "speech" in general.

  • I don't think that a "vocable" is strictly a part of speech. Many things, including established words, can be considered vocables. The OED, which cites instances of vocables from the 15th century, includes this relatively recent one: 1982 A. Burgess End of World News 117 ‘No. No. No.’ That vocable was now being uttered very sharply by Vanessa Brodie. Also a syllable or sound without referential meaning - 2014 D. P. McAllester in B. Swann Sky Loom 247 The syllables in italics are vocables, untranslatable text, like the English ‘hey nonny-no’ or ‘fa-la-la’.
    – WS2
    Jan 22, 2020 at 14:06
  • A vocable can be an interjection, and vice-versa. An "interjection" is a part of speech like "verb" or "adjective" - but a "vocable", from what I'm to understand, can be virtually anything.
    – WS2
    Jan 22, 2020 at 14:14
  • @WS2 I don't think anyone suggested it was a part of speech — it isn't, it's outside parts of speech. And yes, the usage you cite is a rather old one, but in modern usage the meaning has contracted to the one I'm discussing here.
    – hobbs
    Jan 22, 2020 at 16:03
  • But the words in question do all qualify as interjections - which is a part of speech. By all means call them "vocables", but bear in mind that vocables do not end with this type of word.
    – WS2
    Jan 22, 2020 at 18:32

filler from Lexico

1.4 A word or sound filling a pause in an utterance or conversation (e.g. er, well, you know)

  • “English speakers tend to fill pauses in our speech with ‘um’ and ‘er,’ but speakers of other languages use different filler sounds.”

Onomatopoeia from merriam-webster

Definition of onomatopoeia 1: the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss)


I would like to say that they are not even words, and the more accurate way to represent them would be to call them as "sounds". Because each of these can be classified into one or more categories of the English language. I would also like to agree with Hobbs, who said that they can be called as vocables. However here the thing is vocables are for one language. But I would like to call them merely as "sounds" because no matter where you go, which language the people speak, they still remain the same. "Non-words" as the OP put it, will always stand for the same meanings everywhere


They are technically called onomatopoeia's, see here for a list of examples.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.