An ELT Glossary : Echo Utterances

Quirk et al (1972)  define echo utterances as : 

"... utterances which repeat as a whole or in part what has been said by another speaker..... all echo utterances are either interrogative or exclamatory in function."

I would, however, question the final part of this definition and suggest that echo utterances may sometimes be no more than simple repetition used to confirm that they speaker has understood  or eg to give thinking time. Let's look first though at the categories that they deal with.

1. Echo questions

Echo questions may 

a) be recapitulatory simply repeating what the speaker said with rising tone, possibly because it was unexpected  and the listener wants more information :

  • David's in Lancaster.
  • In ↗LANcaster? What's he doing there?
b) use a Wh- word with rising tone, to indicate lack of understanding and to ask for repetition. The Wh- question may be  in it's usual initial position, or in the position of the queried information:
  • He's gone to London.
  • ↗WHERE has he gone?
  • He's gone to London.
  • He's gone ↗WHERE?

c) use a Wh- word with falling tone to indicate the speaker heard but didn't understand an item, and that it needs explanation : 
  • Look at that, over there!
  • Look at ↘WHAT?
  • They're doing it again.
  • ↘WHO'S doing ↘WHAT again?

2. Echo exclamations

Echo exclamations show understanding but surprise. In Brazil and Coulthard's terms the utterance expresses already shared but queried information, and therefore use a rise fall tone. Again, the utterance may involve simple repetition or use a Wh- word.

  • She's an astronaut.
  • An ↘ ASTronaut!
  • He's won a million pounds.
  • He's won ↘ HOW much?

3. Echo statements?

I would suggest however that echo utterances may also be simple recapitulatory restatements of what was said, with no query or surprise involved at all, but simply used to show understanding or allow the listener to think of what they want to say next. Fall rise tone would be used to show the information was shared but not queried:

  • We've made a profit this month.
  • We've made a ↗ PROfit. That's good.


Brazil, D., Coulthard, M., and Johns, C. (1980) Discourse Intonation and Language Teaching,  Longman

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G.,  and Svartvik, J., (1972) A Grammar of Contemprary English. London: Longman