Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English


English definition of “discourse”


noun     /ˈdɪs.kɔːs/ US  /-kɔːrs/ formal
[U] communication in speech or writingInformal talking and conversation [C] a speech or piece of writing about a particular , usually serious , subject : a discourse on/upon the nature of life after death Lecturing and addressing Grammar:Discourse markers (so, right, okay)Discourse markers are words or phrases like anyway, right, okay, as I say, to begin with. We use them to connect, organise and manage what we say or write or to express attitude:Grammar:Discourse markers that organise what we saySome discourse markers are used to start and to end conversations. Some are used to start new topics or to change topics.Grammar:Discourse markers that monitor what we sayAs we talk, we monitor (or listen to) what we are saying and how our listener is responding to what they hear. We often rephrase or change what we say depending on how our listener is responding. We use words and phrases such as well, I mean, in other words, the thing is, you know, you know what I mean, you see, what I mean is.Grammar:Discourse markers as responsesAs we listen to someone speaking, we usually show our response to what we hear either by gesture (head nod) or by a short response (Mm, yeah, really, that’s a shame). This shows that we are listening to and interested in what is being said. We call these short responses ‘response tokens’.Grammar:Discourse markers showing attitudeSome expressions are used to mark attitude or point of view in speaking or writing.Grammar:Discourse markers: sounding less directWe are careful when we speak not to sound too direct or forceful. We use words and phrases such as like, maybe, sort of to soften what we say (hedges).Grammar:Discourse markers: um and ermWe can use um to introduce a new topic carefully:Grammar:Discourse markers: interjections (Oh! Gosh!)An interjection is a single-word exclamation such as hooray, oops, ouch which shows a positive or negative emotional response:
(Definition of discourse noun from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
Focus on the pronunciation of discourse

Definitions of “discourse” in other dictionaries

Word of the Day


a good knowledge of something, or the fact that you know it so well

Word of the Day


Read our blog about how the English language behaves.

Learn More

New Words

Find words and meanings that have just started to be used in English, and let us know what you think of them.

Learn More