There are several ways of expressing your reaction to something you have been told or something you see.
You often use an exclamation to express your reaction to something. An exclamation may consist of a word, a group of words, or a clause.
In speech, you say an exclamation emphatically. When you write down an exclamation, you usually put an exclamation mark (!) at the end of it.
How and what are sometimes used to begin exclamations. How is normally used with an adjective and nothing else after it.
'They've got free hotels run by the state specially for tourists.' – 'How marvellous!'
'He's been late every day this week.' – 'How strange!'
What is used in front of a noun phrase.
'I'd have loved to have gone.' – 'What a shame!'
'...and then she died in poverty.' – 'Oh dear, what a tragic story.'
What a marvellous idea!
You must use what and a (or an) if you are using a singular countable noun. For example, you say 'What an extraordinary experience!' Don't say 'What extraordinary experience!'
You can put a to-infinitive such as to say or to do after the noun phrase, if it is appropriate.
'If music dies, we'll die.' – 'What an awful thing to say!'
What a terrible thing to do!
Exclamations in question form
You can express a reaction by using an exclamation in the form of a question beginning with 'Isn't that'.
'University teachers seem far bolder here than they are over there.' – 'Isn't that interesting.'
'It was a big week for me. I got a letter from Paris.' – 'Oh, isn't that nice!'
A few common exclamations have the same form as positive questions.
Alan! Am I glad to see you!
Well, would you believe it. They won.
'How much?' – 'A hundred million.' – 'Are you crazy?'
Expressing surprise or interest
You can express surprise or interest by saying 'Really?' or 'What?'
'It only takes 35 minutes from my house.' – 'Really? To Oxford Street?'
'He's gone to borrow a gun.' – 'What?'
'My God' is also used to express surprise or interest. However, you should not use it if you are with religious people who might be offended by it.
My God, what are you doing here?
You can also express surprise or interest using a short question with the form of a question tag.
'He gets free meals.' – 'Does he?'
'They're starting up a new arts centre there.' – 'Are they?'
'I got the job.' – 'Did you? Good for you.'
To express very great surprise, you can use a short statement that contradicts what you have just heard, although you do in fact believe it.
'I just left him there and went home.' – 'You didn't!'
You can also express surprise, and perhaps annoyance, by repeating part of what has just been said, or checking that you have understood it.
'Could you please come to Ira's right now and help me out?' – 'Now? Tonight?'
'We haven't found your husband.' – 'You haven't?'
You can also use That's or How with an adjective such as strange or interesting to express surprise or interest.
'Is it a special sort of brain?' – 'Probably.' – 'Well, that's interesting.'
'He said he hated the place.' – 'How strange! I wonder why.'
You can say 'Strange', 'Odd', 'Funny', 'Extraordinary', or 'Interesting' to express your reaction to something.
'They invented the whole story?' – 'That's right.' – 'Extraordinary.'
'They both say they saw it.' – 'Mmm. Interesting.'
You can also say 'What a surprise!'
Tim! Why, what a surprise!
'Felicity? How are you?' – 'Oh, Alan! What a surprise to hear you! Where are you?'
In informal situations, you can use expressions such as 'No!', 'You're joking!', or 'I don't believe it!' to show that you find what someone has said very surprising. 'You're kidding' is a more informal way of saying 'You're joking'.
'Gertrude's got a new boyfriend!' – 'No! Who is he?' – 'Tim Reede!' – 'You mean the guy who works in accounts? You're joking!'
You've never sold the house? I don't believe it!
'They'll be allowed to mess about with it.' – 'You're kidding!'
In very informal English, some people use expressions like 'Bloody Hell!' to express surprise. However, this may cause offence, and should be avoided.
Some people use expressions beginning with 'Fancy' and an -ing form to express surprise.
Fancy seeing you here!
Fancy choosing that!
You can show that you are pleased about a situation or about what someone has said by saying something like 'That's great' or 'That's wonderful', or just using the adjective.
'I've arranged the flights.' – 'Oh, that's great.'
'We can give you an idea of what the prices are.' – 'Great.'
You can also say things like 'How marvellous' or 'How wonderful'.
'I've just spent six months in Italy.' – 'How lovely!'
Oh, Robert, how wonderful to see you.
However, don't say 'How great'.
In a formal situation, you can say 'I'm glad to hear it', 'I'm pleased to hear it', or 'I'm delighted to hear it' when someone tells you something.
'He took me home, so I was well looked after.' – 'I'm glad to hear it.'
These expressions are often used to show in a humorous way that you would have been annoyed if something had not been the case.
'I have a great deal of respect for you.' – 'I'm delighted to hear it!'
You can also show that you are pleased about something by saying something like 'That is good news' or 'That's wonderful news'.
'My contract's been extended for a year.' – 'That is good news.'
You can express relief when you are told something by saying 'Oh good' or 'That's all right then'.
'I think he will understand.' – 'Oh good.'
'They're all right?' – 'They're perfect.' – 'Good, that's all right then.'
You can also say 'That's a relief' or 'What a relief!'
'He didn't seem to notice much.' – 'Well, that's a relief, I must say.'
'It's nothing like as bad as that.' – 'What a relief!'
When you are very relieved, you can say 'Thank God', 'Thank goodness', 'Thank God for that', or 'Thank heavens for that'.
'He's arrived safely in Moscow.' – 'Thank goodness.'
Thank God you're safe!
In formal situations, you should say something like 'I'm relieved to hear it'.
'Is that the truth?' – 'Yes.' – 'I am relieved to hear it!'
'I certainly did not support Captain Shays.' – 'I am relieved to hear you say that.'
People sometimes use sounds rather than words to express relief. In writing, this is usually represented by the words phew (in British English) or whew (American English).
Phew. I'm glad that's sorted out.
Whew, what a relief!
You can express annoyance by saying 'Oh no' or 'Bother'. 'Bother' is slightly old-fashioned.
'We're going to be late.' – 'Oh no!'
Bother. I forgot to eat my sandwiches before I came here.
People often use swear words to express annoyance. Damn and hell are mild swear words used in this way. However, you should not use even these words when you are with people you do not know well. Words like fuck and shit are stronger swear words, and you should avoid using them, as they may cause offence.
Damn. It's nearly ten. I have to get down to the hospital.
'It's broken.' – 'Oh, hell!'
Some people use words such as sugar or flipping in British English, and darn, dang or shoot in American English, to avoid using swear words in situations where they might cause offence.
I can't flipping believe it.
Oh shoot, I don't have a can opener.
You can also say 'What a nuisance' or 'That's a nuisance'.
He'd just gone. What a nuisance!
People often say things like 'Great' or 'Oh, that's marvellous' to express annoyance in a sarcastic way. Usually the way they say these things makes it clear that they are annoyed, not pleased.
'I phoned up about it and they said it's a mistake.' – 'Marvellous.'
Expressing disappointment or distress
You can show that you are disappointed or upset at something by saying 'Oh dear'.
'We haven't got any results for you yet.' – 'Oh dear.'
Oh dear, I wonder what's happened.
You can also say 'That's a pity', 'That's a shame', 'What a pity', or 'What a shame'.
'They're going to demolish it.' – 'That's a shame. It's a nice place.'
'Perhaps we might meet tomorrow?' – 'I have to leave Copenhagen tomorrow, I'm afraid. What a pity!'
People often just say 'Pity'.
'Do you play the violin by any chance?' – 'No.' – 'Pity. We could have tried some duets.'
You can also say 'That's too bad'.
'We don't play that kind of music any more.' – 'That's too bad. David said you were terrific.'
You can express great disappointment or distress by saying 'Oh no!'
'Johnnie Frampton has had a nasty accident.' – 'Oh no! What happened?'
When someone has just told you about something bad that has happened to them, you can express sympathy by saying 'Oh dear'.
'First of all, it was pouring with rain.' – 'Oh dear.'
You can also say things like 'How awful' or 'How annoying'.
'He's ill.' – 'How awful. So you aren't coming home?'
'We never did find the rest of it.' – 'Oh, how dreadful!'
You can also say 'What a pity' or 'What a shame'.
'It took four hours, there and back.' – 'Oh, what a shame.'
You can express sympathy more formally by saying 'I'm sorry to hear that'.
'I was ill on Monday.' – 'Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.'
If what has happened is very serious, for example if a relative of the other person has died, you can express strong sympathy by saying 'I'm so sorry' or, more informally, 'That's terrible'.
'You remember Gracie, my sister? She died last autumn.' – 'Oh, I'm so sorry.'
'My wife's just been sacked.' – 'That's terrible.'
If someone has failed to achieve something, you can say 'Bad luck' or 'Hard luck', which implies that the failure was not their fault. If they can make a second attempt, you can say 'Better luck next time'.
'I failed my driving test again.' – 'Oh, hard luck.'
Well, there we are, we lost this time, but better luck next time.
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