"Because if Harry here --" Mr Malfoy shot Harry a swift, sharp look, "and his friend Ron hadn't discovered this book, why -- Ginny Weasley might have taken all the blame. No one would ever have been able to prove she hadn't acted of her own free will..."

I don't understand the usage "why" in this context. The close definition I can get from dictionaries is:


People say 'Why!' at the beginning of a sentence when they are surprised, shocked, or angry.

But in this case, I don't see Dumbledore was surprised, shocked, or angry specifically.

How should we understand the use of "why" in this sentence?

P.S. My question is based on a specific context. I don't know how this definition could fit the context.

-- From Harry Potter.

  • 1
    People say it not only at the beginning of a sentence. It is said also at the beginning of a clause. As for the emotion that can elicit a Why!, compare: I shudder to think that Ginny might have taken all the blame. "a nasty outcome avoided" is another reason for using it.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 13:39
  • 4
    Why, here's a surprise! Possible duplicate of What does this 'why' mean? Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 13:41
  • @FumbleFingers, I think my question might be a bit different because it's context-based. I'm aware of this use of 'why', but I'm not quite sure how to fit it into this context.
    – dan
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 14:08
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    dan - who's asking and who's answering here? So far as I'm concerned, your cited usage is exactly the same as the one I linked to. It's the full OED's definition IV - 7 - Used interjectionally, before a sentence or clause. Note that it's rather "dated, quaint", so don't copy the usage yourself. But people today would often use well in much the same way. Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


It's a good thing you didn't walk out on the pond any farther than you did. The ice is thin out near the middle. Why, you might have fallen through!

You need to understand shocked very broadly. The speaker has undergone, or is imagining undergoing, an emotional shock of some kind; here, imagining a person falling through the ice, and in your example, imagining an innocent person being wrongly accused.


'Why' is sometimes used as an interjection, indicating mild surprise, bemusement, indignation or impatience, usually in response to an unexpected or surprising event or outcome. When used in this way it does not indicate that the speaker is asking a question. This use of 'why' is a bit archaic, but it can still be heard from time to time, especially if someone is trying to emulate the polite speech of bygone years..

For example.

You can't find your best pen despite looking for it for several minutes. Later, you sit at your desk and happen to find it under your newspaper. You might say, 'Why, it was on my desk all this time.'

Someone gives you an unexpected compliment. You might respond, 'Why, thank you. You are so kind.'

In your example, I suspect that Dumbledore is just pretending to be surprised that Ginny Weasley, of all people, might have been found guilty of a crime, had Harry and Ron not found out what caused her to act in such an atypical fashion.

Additional information regarding the use of 'why' as an interjection can be found in Stack Exchange English Language and Usage (here).

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