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Re: Why...

Posted by R. Berg on November 08, 2002

In Reply to: Why... posted by Nicole on November 08, 2002

: I've heard many people use the word 'why' in cases where, in my opinion, it is not actually needed. For instance, if you ask a person if they have a pen that you could borrow, they might reply with "Why, yes I do." What's the point in saying 'why'? Is it like you're asking why they want to know, and then you reply anyway? I hope some one can clarify this for me. Thank you.

Why, certainly. A person who says "Why, yes," I have a pen" isn't asking a question. This is a "why" used as an interjection. The Oxford English Dictionary gives, among the uses of "why," two interjectional ones that aren't obsolete. (There's also one obsolete interjectional use.) These are "as an expression of surprise (sometimes only momentary or slight; sometimes involving protest) . . ." and "emphasizing or calling more or less abrupt attention to the statement following . . . ."

I never hear people use "why" this way. They seem to do it only in books.