Rejoinders: The Emoticons of English

3 Parts of a Basic Conversation in English

After greeting someone, a basic conversation in English has three parts.

Question mark

The three parts are:

  1. A question
  2. An answer with some details
  3. A reaction and a follow-up question

Example of a Short Conversation

Elsa: What are you doing after class?

Ollie: I’m going to head to the library.

Elsa: Oh yeah? What for?

Ollie: I have a ton of homework.

Elsa: Sorry to hear that. Good luck with it.

Ollie: Thanks. How about you? Where are you headed after class?   (*Transition Focus is on Elsa now.)

Elsa: I have lunch plans.

Ollie: That’s nice. Who with?

Elsa: A friend from my English class.

Ollie: Oh, cool. Well, have fun!

Elsa: Thanks. See ya later! And good luck with your homework!

Ollie: Thanks. See ya!

After mastering this pattern and learning to use rejoinders and follow-up questions well, you can move outside of the pattern. Conversations are more flexible, but the basic pattern should be understood and learned first. For another example that is a bit more flexible in style, read this conversation between friends talking about seeing a movie that had just been released.

Each of the 3 parts of a conversation are important. This page focuses on rejoinders. Let’s get started!

Emoticons

Rejoinders

Rejoinders are expressions we use to react to what someone has said to show them that we understand and sympathize with them. Learning to use them will make you sound much more fluent in English. People will also enjoy talking to you more than if you do not use them.

We love using emoticons to react when texting. It’s fast, easy, and fun.

When speaking, we need to replace emoticons with words like Really? and That’s great!

Rejoinders are the emoticons of speaking.

All languages have these types of expressions. Korean has many of them! I hear them constantly when I listen to Korean conversations. They are very noticeable because they are repeated so frequently. Examples include: 정말, 헐, 헉, 대박, 진짜, 에이, 짱, 뭐, and 그래요. For more information on these, check out the 12 Most Common and Popular Korean Exclamations by Satish Satyarthi of Seoul National University at the TOPIK Guide blog.

Why do we need to use rejoinders?

Rejoinders help keep conversations going. They also make conversations better. When people do not use them, they appear uninterested, bored, or confused.

There are three things that rejoinders communicate:

  1.  I’m listening.
  2.  I understand.
  3.  I care. (Even if you don’t care, you should use them to be polite.)

*Note: There are many different types of rejoinders in English. We are only focusing on one type. Below are some natural and common ones organized into 4 categories. Keep in mind that within each category, there are slight differences in strength and meaning. I have arranged them from weakest to strongest as much as possible. Additionally, you can make any of them stronger or weaker by using different tones.

If someone says something happy or good:

  • Really? 🙂 (This is happy only with the correct tone.)
  • That’s great! 😃
  • Nice! 🤗
  • Cool! 😎
  • That’s awesome! 🤩

If someone says something sad or bad:

  • That’s too bad. 😞(This is used more when something is disappointing or not good.)
  • (I’m) Sorry to hear that. 🙁😥(This is used to express care and used for deaths and other sad situations.)
  • That’s terrible. 😠😫(This is used when something very bad or serious happens.)
  • Oh, no! 😱😨(This has an element of surprise, but it is a negative misfortune.)

If someone says something surprising:

  • Really?! 😮(This is surprising only with the correct tone.)
  • Wait…What?! 😳 🤔(This is very common in TV shows these days and can also express confusion.)
  • Seriously?! 🤨
  • Are you serious? 🤨
  • For real?! 😮
  • No way! 😲
  • Get out! 😲
  • Wow! 😲😀(This is used for happy surprises, but with a different tone, it could be a shocking or disappointing surprise.)

If someone says something neutral (not good, not bad, not surprising):

  • I see. (Basically, you are just saying I understand.)
  • Oh, yeah? (This expresses a bit more interest than I see.)
  • Interesting. (The level of interest will vary with the tone used.)
  • That’s nice. (This also varies, but can be used when something has a positive element.)

These are not the only rejoinders in English. There are many more! However, these are the most up-to-date ones and the ones that lead to fewer mistakes than some of the others.

Keep in mind that there are nuances (subtle differences) to which rejoinder is best for any particular situation. For example, while I see. and Oh, yeah? can both be used for neutral situations, I see. is weaker and more serious at times. If something is neutral, but most likely enjoyable, Oh, yeah? is a better choice.

We also use: uh huh, okay, yes, yeah, yup, right, mm hmm to confirm that we are listening. While these are natural, they should be paired with the expressions above to truly sound polite.

Music scale high low

Tone

It is important to use the correct tone when using rejoinders.

  • Happy and surprising rejoinders use a tone that is a little higher and faster than the other rejoinders.
  • Sad rejoinders should be lower and slower (otherwise they sound insincere).

Listen to hear the tones for each set of rejoinders:

While the tones can vary more, this gives you a base tone for each expression. You can increase or decrease the level of happiness, sadness, surprise, confusion, or neutrality by changing the tone of any of them.

Next: Follow-up questions

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