9 Words to Avoid Saying Today

When I was a child, my mother always corrected me when I used the word “uh” and “like,” as in the sentence, “Uh, I am not sure, like I really want to do this but I don’t know how.” I have made up that sentence for great effect (hopefully) to illustrate how uneducated one can sound when using unnecessary, filler words. Kids can get away with “um” and “like” and “you know” – then one day, kids become directors, managers, account executives, spokespeople, and colleagues in a professional environment. What you say and how you say it starts to matter. Whereas a mother would implore her child to not use “uh” and the child will roll his eyes and still say it, it’s unlikely your boss or your colleague will correct your language. It would just seem rude and make you feel bad. So you are left to your own devices, to self-correct. How many times in a given day do you think you fill your dialogue with these words:

  • Um
  • Like
  • Uh
  • You Know
  • Ta (a mangled variation of “to”)
  • Honestly (as in “Honestly, what I think you need to do)
  • Actually
  • I mean

The last word I’d like to bring to your attention is “but”. It’s a fine word and grammatically acceptable. But it’s ripe with nuance. Try, for a day, to replace the word “but” with “and”.  I bet you will come across as kinder and less contrary.  Consider these possibly familiar exchanges:

Sample One:

“I just read your report and found it very interesting. It’s well-written and thought-out. But you are missing a key idea.”

Response: “Oh.”

An alternative without “but”:

“I just read your report and found it very interesting. It’s well-written and thought-out and if we were to add a few more sentences on (fill in the blank), it would be ready to distribute.”

Response: “Great! Thank you!”

Sample Two:

“How does this outfit look on me?”

Response: “It looks nice, but you might want to loosen the belt.”

An alternative without “but”:

“How does this outfit look on me?”

Response: “It looks nice, and I like the shoes, too!”

Try replacing the word “but” with “and”. It may do wonders for your relationships, you know?

Are there are other “filler” words that should be added to this list? Please chime in.

– Diane Schwartz




  • Brian Cockman

    I’ve always said that “but” negates everything that appears before it in a sentence. I also think people use the expression “yada, yada, yada” or “blah, blah, blah” as a crutch. When people who use those expressions it tells me even they’re bored or disinterested in what they’re saying.

  • Richard Boahen

    This discussion on avoiding the word “but” is very timely considering how people have virtually bastardised the word in recent times. It’s now more of a cliche than modern english word.


  • http://www.professionally-speaking.com Shira Kirsh

    I gave my first speech at my local Toastmasters International group recently. I have done a few extemporaneous 1-2 minute long speeches, but this was my 4-6 minute “icebreaker”. Someone is assigned to count your interjections (um, uh, er) and fillers, such as the words “you know, so”, etc. I was happy to have only 1 “um”, but the “ah-counter” counted 7 “so’s”. So…. I had to add my $40 cents to the jar. (5 cents for each infraction!) It is a great group to practice effective speaking and pick apart the other speakers!! (in a friendly atmosphere!)

  • Jonathan McGrain

    I would add the word “absolutely”, which is an overused and unnecessary substitute for “yes.”

  • Doug Siemens

    So, anyways, I really agreed with the thoughts in the article. I also think “so”, “anyways” (silly me, all this time I thought the word was “anyway”) and “really” are extremely over used as well as improperly utilized. And, that being, said, the way my brain has been functioning lately, my comment on the outfit would be: “It looks nice and it doesn’t make you look that fat.”

  • http://www.visitfairfax.com Joanna Ormesher

    I would like the word ‘awesome’ to be added to the list please. There are times that this adjective can be perfect – the awesome majesty of the Rockies etc.. however not usually in day to day conversation

  • http://www.PublicityHound.com Joan Stewart

    Please add one more word to the list:


  • http://Debrabouche.com Debra Bouche

    Whatever! I mean, ADD this word to the list too. And may I add that people need to be aware when they have thick spittle forming in the corners of their mouth when speaking? Overuse of a particular word is annoying but when spit starts forming I can no longer concentrate on the message.

  • http://Www.livewellcolorado.org Tracy Boyle

    The phrases “sort of ” or “kind of.” People use these to try and soften everything they say, making them sound unsure of what they’re saying and often downright nonsensical. “I’m sort of going to deliver that report tomorrow because I kind of have a doctors appointment.” I hear this type of talk from junior and senior professionals!

  • Diane Schwartz

    Thanks for all the great feedback and additions to the list, a work in progress!

  • http://www.genesisbm.in/ Radhika

    Thanks for the article. Unknowingly, I have been using the term “but” and “actually” a lot in my conversations. From now onwards, I will make sure that I replace it with a better word and make it sound as great as you did in one of the conversations above.

  • Robyn

    I’m thinking of two words by it by far is one of the most unprofessional — “you guys”

    Who are these guys and why are we addressing them in a professional setting?

  • Robyn

    I also need to work on my proofing. Sorry about that.

  • Wendy

    Sprinkled liberally at the beginning and in the middle of sentences it becomes annoying.
    “So basically, what happened is that he basically looked at the engine and basically changed all the spark plugs and basically that fixed the problem.”

  • Linda

    The list is getting long, right? Everyone reading this should get it to all of their colleagues, right? I know, right? Yes, it’s my new pet peeve: please add the word right to the list….right?

  • Roger Dullinger

    Great stuff, AND I think stuff should be added to the list.

  • http://www.vac-con.com Tom Jody

    All of these comments are excellent, and I have been guilty of all of these infractions at some time. To add one more overused word, I offer up the word “utilize”. If one researches the meaning of utilize, one will find that the fundamental
    definition is exactly the same as the verb (to)”use”, which is a perfectly good word, and in most circles sounds less affected than utilize. Thanks for the article; it’s a great reminder!!

  • http://www.graceworks.org Larry Ramey

    “You guys”: Most often, use “you” (the plural of “you”), or for inclusive emphasis, “all of you” or “you all.” To break down the speaker-audience barrier, why not “all of us” or “we”?

  • Bryan

    What do you think of the word “etcetera”? I find more people use it as the final word in a list of examples, but find it rather taxing.

  • http://www.valleyforge.org Dan Weckerly

    I’d love to see the use of “awesome” and “amazing” trimmed. Mindless filler:

    “Geez, performing that piano concerto at Carnegie Hall must have been quite an experience. What did you think?”

    “It was awesome.”

    “Can you assess how you played?”

    “I think I played amazing.”


  • Laura Lohnes

    Well, I find myself starting a lot of sentences, with “Well,……”

  • Dan Price

    Diane, this is a good article.

    Now that we have the “words” out of the way, how about a piece on phrases?

    I offer up ” at the end of the day” as an example. Just a bit shopworn and over used don’t you think? I’m sure there are many others….

    Dan Price

  • April D Melton

    I personally didn’t like the example response for, “How does this outfit look on me?” If the the belt needs to be adjusted, that’s important and you wouldn’t address the shoes. That’s like letting your best friend leave the restroom with toilet paper hanging out her dress. Instead I would respond, “It looks nice, and the belt is ajustable, too!”

  • Tina

    I think there are a number phrases that can be added to the list. “At the end of the day” grates on my nerves as the most overused cliche’. I hear it from men and women of all ages when trying to make a point. When I hear it, however, I completely miss the point and probably roll my eyes as a reflex.

  • Tina

    Apparently my friend a few posts above me agrees. :-)

  • DeJordy

    Actually, “et cetera” is two words.

  • http://www.adcentricity.com Curtis

    But, um, you know it’s actually hard ta not say those words. I mean, honestly, how do you expect us not ta say all this?

    … uh yeah

  • Carmela Moeller

    let’s resurrect the phrase “you’re welcome” instead of “no problem”. It may be a generational thing, but it’s just good manners.

  • http://www.prsavvy.com Ford Kanzler

    Great reminder item for people who’d like NOT sounding as if they’ve just fell off the school bus.

    If the words “like” or “actually” had any physical weight, the Earth would implode. :)

  • Alex

    How about the phrase, “My bad.” Wouldn’t using the term “mea culpa,” be more intelligible?

  • John Hamill

    I think your list, as fine as it was, okay, a little short, okay, of all the necessary words, okay, that people like you, okay, use every fifth or sixth word, okay.

    I worked with an HR director who could not speak a sentence without at least one “okay” per comma, or thought. Drove people around him nuts!

  • Randy Hughes

    How about “is is” as in the all too common phrase “The thing is is that….”

    Or “That’s what I’m talkin’ about”–oh yeah, please add that one!.

    How about “like” in place of said: “And she was like, ‘I love those shoes!’ and I was like, ‘Aren’t they adorable!’ and she was like ‘Omigod!'”

    Help me!

  • tracey

    funny in your sentence about not using ‘but’ – and you use the word but…

  • Sam Fine

    It is what it is. You know what I’m saying?

  • James

    Hey, Diane, while your mother was instructing you “to not use ‘uh,’” did she also instruct you to not split infinitives in published prose?

  • Katherine

    Seriously? You forgot the word “seriously.”

  • http://regretmywebsitehashadamalwareattack john chambers

    James-up-above, writing at 8.57am on the 30th, is trying to take us down a road that does not exist in having it that “you do not split infinitives in published prose.”

    The is quite clear that “there is no such rule, merely a superstition that arose in the 19th century when grammarians sought to impose Latin rules on English.

    “If you think a sentence will be more emphatic, clear or rhythmical,” the Oxford Guide goes on, “split your infinitive – there’s no reason in logic or grammar for avoiding it.”

    Notably, there’s more at: http://www.richardhollins.com/grammar-rules-you-should-ignore/#comment-8119.

    He’s also interestingly good on debunking “Never start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but.'” And with dismissing the canard “Never end a sentence with a preposition.”

  • http://regretmywebsitehashadamalwareattack john chambers

    See my comment immediately above. I don’t know what happened, but my second paragraph should have opened with: “The Oxford Guide to Plain English …

  • Carlyn Crowe

    Yep, would you please add yep to that list?! Especially in writing it feels so like “yep, whatever” you know? Honestly, like what happened to real English.

  • Vern Telford

    Great article. Triggered a lot of responses that will cause us to think before we speak.
    Have a nice day is wearing thin all over. Unsettles me a touch when I hear it used in the world of commerce. Whether I’m buying shoes or a casket.

  • Bill Burton

    May I pause to lament those words used so poorly they’ve lost their meaning? “Unique” is an absolute. Something cannot be more, less, or almost unique. Either it is or it ain’t. Likewise “ubiquitous.” Thank you.

  • cindy

    Any word with “ly” on the end,

    you get the drift…

  • Emily Gest

    I love this list even though the word ‘love’ should be added. My major pet peeve? “I’m gonna get with….” As in, I need to meet with someone but, instead I am told by far too many people, “I’m gonna get with you later on that.”