Rejoinders are an essential aspect of conversations in English. Even native speakers can improve their listening skills by using them.
I will explain what rejoinders are in detail below, but first I want to give you some context and examples. In the conversation below, rejoinders (also called reactions) are the words that are underlined.
3 Parts of a Basic Conversation in English
After greeting someone, a basic conversation in English has three parts.
Related post: Greetings: 5 Ways to Say Hello in English
The three parts are:
- A question
- An answer with some details
- A reaction and a follow-up question
Related post: How to Ask Follow-up Questions
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, your conversations can be more flexible. 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.
Rejoinders are expressions we use to react to what someone has said to show that we understand and sympathize with them.
Learning to use rejoinders will make you sound much more fluent in English. People will also have a better impression of you and enjoy talking to you more than if you do not use them.
Being able to use rejoinders well is a beneficial communication skill in any language and a sign of a good listener.
Rejoinders are the emoticons of speaking.
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!
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:
- I’m listening.
- I understand.
- 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.
4 Categories of Rejoinders
1. If someone says something happy or good:
- Really? (This is happy only with the correct tone.)
- That’s great!
- That’s awesome!
2. 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 bad or serious happens.)
- Oh, no! (This has an element of surprise, but it is a negative misfortune.)
3. 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.)
- 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.)
4. If someone says something neutral (not good, not bad, not surprising):
- I see. (Basically, you are 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 and common ones and the ones that lead to fewer mistakes than some of the others.
Keep in mind that there are nuances to which rejoinder is best for any particular situation.
nuance: a very small difference in meaning, sound, appearance, expression, etc.
For example, while I see. and Oh, yeah? can both be used for neutral situations, I see. is weaker, colder, and more serious at times.
I sometimes hear non-native English speakers use I see incorrectly in a way that creates distance between them and the person they are speaking with. This is because the underlying message these words give is “I’m listening, but this is very boring.” To avoid this, if something is neutral, but most likely enjoyable, Oh, yeah? is a better choice.
Interjections are another way we communicate that we are listening and paying attention. However, interjects are often only sounds and do not contain the same empathy that rejoinders do.
Some examples of interjections are: uh huh, okay, yes, yeah, yup, right, mm hmm. When we use these, we are communicating to a speaker that we are listening closely to what they are saying.
While interjections are natural and good to use, they should be paired with the rejoinders to truly sound polite during a conversation.
Tone of Rejoinders
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. One trick to get a happy sounding tone is to smile when you react.
- 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 (especially for my happy examples that don’t sound happy enough!), 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.
Related course designed to let you eavesdrop on real conversations and help you understand ‘fast’ English: Conversation and Listening
eavesdrop: secretly listen to a conversation
Never stop learning!