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Which part of speech is the word "wait" in this context?

Wait! You forgot your keys!

Is it a noun, verb, or else? I couldn't find any discussion about this, the only parts of speech I could find in my dictionary is either a noun or verb. I'm using OALD and I'm also not sure whether an exclamation is even a part of speech, but I feel it's an exclamation since there's an exclamation mark/sign (!).

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    Good question +1! 1 word sentences are usually an incomplete sentence, as they lack a subject and verb
    – DialFrost
    Aug 1 at 7:21
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    @DialFrost: "Wait!" is a perfectly complete sentence. Imperative verbs don't need an explicit subject.
    – TonyK
    Aug 2 at 0:33
  • btw… This never happens in real life. "Wait!" is only ever used in movie scripts, where it has the magical ability to halt any character in their tracks, no matter what they were doing. Aug 2 at 16:25
  • @gonefishin'again., on the contrary, I hear "Wait!" that at least daily when I tell my daughters it's time to stop playing and get ready for bed.
    – JakeRobb
    Aug 2 at 20:32
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    Most of the answers here don't address the actual question title -- is it an exclamation? They instead address the body of the question, explaining that it is a verb; specifically an order in the imperative. Simultaneously, it can be an exclamation or not; this does not affect the sentence's grammatical interpretation; only the urgency of the command. As written, your example is an exclamation, but "Wait. You forgot your keys." would not be.
    – JakeRobb
    Aug 2 at 20:35

3 Answers 3

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No it is not an exclamation but an order.

According to EL&U - forming valid one word sentences:

Interrogatives (who?), imperatives (stop), declaratives (me), locatives (here), and nominatives (Jane) all allow for single-word statements, as do adjectives, adverbs and so on. You'd be hard-pressed to find a category of words that are not amenable to the possibility.

A sentence must have a subject (noun) and a verb (action). However, when we speak we don't always use complete sentences. So there are sentences that are made up of just one word followed by a punctuation mark. This is allowable because in one-word sentences either the noun or the verb is implied. Source

In a one-word sentence, the subject and the action of the sentence is implied in the single word. Source

From these sources, we can deduce it is a Imperative, which is a verb, or a verb in the imperative mood:

According to Source (download):

Imperatives are verbs used to give orders, commands, warning or instructions, and (if you use "please") to make a request. It is one of the three moods of an English verb (indicative, imperative and subjunctive).

According to Grammarly blog - imperative verbs:

Imperative verbs are verbs that create an imperative sentence (i.e. a sentence that gives an order or command)

Or more specifically, an intransitive verb:

According to masterclass.com:

Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not require a direct object. Intransitive verbs follow the subject and complete an independent clause, and they may be followed by prepositions, adverbs, or another clause to further contextualize the action of the verb.

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    It is an order, not an interjection. Orders are in the imperative.
    – Lambie
    Aug 1 at 15:09
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    While pretty much all single-word exclamations take an exclamation mark, it's not the case that all exclamation marks on single words indicate exclamations. This is a command, not an exclamation, so it's an imperative.
    – gotube
    Aug 2 at 3:28
  • @gotube But according to situation, this seems to be both an order and exclamation though
    – DialFrost
    Aug 2 at 5:05
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    Exclamation is a bit vague, but I do not see why either exclamations or even interjections could not be in the imperative mood (especially since English verb morphology does not mark for all these niceties). The speaker expresses mild distress at something going wrong ("exclamation/interjection") but also expects the person spoken to to obey the command ("imperative") although obey/command seems a bit strong in a context where the waiting is wholly to the benefit of the person spoken to.
    – Deipatrous
    Aug 2 at 7:45
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    @DialFrost The first sentence of your answer states that it's probably an exclamation -- and it well may be -- but the reasons in that sentence and below don't support that claim. There's some useful stuff in the Wikipedia Interjection article
    – gotube
    Aug 2 at 13:53
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Grammatically, this is an intransitive verb in the imperative mood, like “Stop!” or “Listen!” However, it is used more like an interjection. We could also say, “Wait, you forgot your keys!” similar to other interjections like “Oh no, you forgot your keys!” Separating an actual command, like “Search” or “Halt,” from a complete sentence like “You forgot your keys,” though, would need a full stop, excalmation mark or conjunction. Just a comma between them would make it a comma splice.

In context, though, the speaker is not really asking the other person to wait for something. If someone told me, “Wait,” I would not expect to have to actually wait, but to be told or asked something important immediately. It is also much less rude to say “wait” than to give someone a direct order, such as “Stop!” (I would often add “please” or “could you” to a command like stop in contexts where that is not necessary with wait.)

Merriam-Webster lists this idiomatic usage as sense 5 of the verb wait (with two examples of usage).

: pause, stop—used to preface an interjected question, correction, etc.

"Wait, Mom. Wait. What did you say?" I said. "He left you what?"
— Frederick Busch

So wait, what's so bad about wanting to eat right?
— Annie Daly

This dictionary calls it an intransitive verb, and an interjection.

The Collins Dictionary does not have this exact usage, but does describe a similar one:

Wait is used in expressions such as wait a minute, wait a second, and wait a moment to interrupt someone when they are speaking, for example because you object to what they are saying or because you want them to repeat something.

The Merriam-Webster examples are closer to yours, but this is pretty similar: the speaker is trying to interrupt the other person, but from leaving without their keys, rather than speaking. And indeed, the examples of usage in Merriam-Webster are of asking one’s mother to repeat something, and interrupting someone because the speaker disagrees.

So it means to stop or pause what you are doing. In this sense, it is always followed by an urgent question, piece of news, or refutation.

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  • Yes. Yours is the best answer so far as I'm concerned. The question asked which "part of speech" it was. Well interjections and exclamations are not parts of speech, they are names of expressions. "Wait!", is clearly a verb - and is in the imperative mood.
    – WS2
    Aug 1 at 20:56
  • @WS2 Thinking about it, it’s not actually used like an imperative verb. If it were, a sentence with “wait,” set off by a comma would be a comma splice. So it is used like an interjection.
    – Davislor
    Aug 2 at 3:12
  • As explained an "interjection" is not a part of speech - such as a verb, noun, preposion etc. An interjection is simply a word that can stand independently of anything around it. Arguably "Wait!" used in this way is an interjection - as well as being the imperative mood of a verb.
    – WS2
    Aug 2 at 18:04
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It could also be considered an interjection, specifically a Volitive interjection.

According to Webster,

Definition of interjection 1: an ejaculatory utterance usually lacking grammatical connection: such as a: a word or phrase used in exclamation (such as Heavens! Dear me!) b: a cry or inarticulate utterance (such as Alas! ouch! phooey! ugh!) expressing an emotion

and with regards to a Volititive interjection, chegg defines it as

[Volitive interjections] convey the speaker’s wishes and desires and express commands and requests. Volitive interjections replace “I want” phrases. For example, you can use “Shh!” to mean “I want you to be quiet.” Similarly, you may utter the interjection “Ahem” to convey that “I request your attention to what I am going to say.”

In this case, you're requesting the person to wait, so it would replace "I want you to wait" with just the single word.

See also the School House Rock on Interjections!

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    Most of the examples of volitive interjections are not actual imperative verbs like "wait". They're more idiomatic
    – Barmar
    Aug 1 at 14:46
  • "oh hang on" for "I want you to be quiet for a few seconds so I can think about this"
    – Deipatrous
    Aug 2 at 7:49

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