Filler Words: What Are They and How to Avoid Them?

Filler words are discourse markers often used to fill speech or writing gaps. They might seem harmless, but they can make you sound uncertain, unprepared, or both. Luckily, there are tricks to reduce word stuffing. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the most common filler terms, why you should stop using them, and some no-fuss tricks for avoiding them in formal writing and speech. 

What Are Filler Words?

English filler words are also known as discourse markers. Native English speakers unintentionally use these words when they need help finding the right word or they’re still thinking about what to say next. 

In public speaking, filler terms can be a problem because they can make you appear uncertain or unprepared. They can also distract the audience and make your message less effective.

Using filler terms, however, is not limited to public speaking or conversations. You can also spot them in written text like essays or articles. 

In writing, you can use these words to emphasize a point or make a sentence sound more conversational. However, it can make your writing seem unclear and distract readers from the main issues you’re trying to convey.

What Are the Most Common Filler Phrases?

There are many filler phrases that people use in daily conversations and writing. However, these words add no value to your statement and only help bridge the gap between your thoughts. Below are the most common filler words that people use often. 

Umm/Uh/Ah

These are among the most popular verbal fillers you often use when you are hesitant or uncertain about something. 

When you use “um” or “uh,” it indicates that you are pausing to think of something or unsure what to say. “Um” shows that you are searching for the right word to use, while “uh” indicates that you’re having trouble expressing an idea or concept. 

 “Ah” is also a common filler word when you have just had an idea or have realized something. It expresses surprise or realization and relays a sense of pleasure or satisfaction in something. 

Er

This is a filler word that is similar to “um,” “uh,” and “ah.” However, it indicates a more negative concern regarding something. People use “er” in a sentence to show doubt or a potentially even alarm concerning an action, statement, or thought. You can also use this word when unsure of the best course of action or decision to make. 

Very, Really, Highly

The words “very,” “really,” and “highly” are also words that fill gaps or pauses in a conversation. You can use it to emphasize a statement or express your emotions or feelings about something. 

The word “very” indicates a high degree of intensity, while “really” emphasizes a statement or expresses surprise or disbelief. On the other hand, the word “highly” indicates that something is of very high quality or worth. 

Hmm

“Hmm” is another filler word used when thinking or considering something. It can pause a conversation or show that you are considering a question or comment. 

Overall, “Hmm” is a way to express uncertainty or hesitation in a conversation. Sometimes, people use it as a polite way to disagree with something or express skepticism. This word can also indicate that you are unsure of how to respond.

Like

The word “like” is a commonly used stuffing phrase in speech and writing. It often shows that you are thinking or considering what to say. Using this word helps make a statement more tentative or less direct.

Just

Unlike others, “just” is not always a filler word. People use it to indicate an action that occurred recently and as a synonym for merely. However, it qualifies as a filler word, particularly when overused in a sentence. In most cases, using too much of this word can also change the meaning of a sentence. 

You Know

The phrase “you know” is commonly used to fill pauses or gaps in conversation, making it a filler word. Many speakers use it when trying to think of the right word or when unsure how to proceed. 

Right

“Right” is often used as a filler word in spoken language. It indicates that you are thinking during a conversation or to signal that you are about to say something. This way, “right” keeps the conversation moving forward without adding specific meaning or content. 

Totally, Literally, Seriously

These are among the most common filler phrases used in everyday speech. “Totally” indicates agreement or support for something, while “literally” emphasizes the truth or severity of a statement. 

On the other hand, “seriously” demonstrates that something is not a joke. It also expresses disbelief. While each of these words has a practical meaning, they can be fluff if misused. 

Okay

“Okay” is a word that can have a literal meaning when used to indicate agreement or acceptance of something. However, it becomes a filler word when you need help with what to say or when thinking of something. It’s also commonly used when you have completed a conversation and have nothing to add. 

Why Do People Use Filler Words?

In most cases, you may use filler expressions to help you think or organize your thoughts while speaking. 

You could also use fillers to reduce anxiety or nervousness while speaking. They help to break the silence and make you feel more comfortable. 

Filler phrases also serve as a buffer, allowing you to take a moment to collect ideas without immediately jumping back into the conversation. 

Using these words can signal that you are still engaged in the conversation and actively listening to the speaker. 

Why Are Filler Words Bad?

The use of filler words hurts your speech and writing for multiple reasons. Firstly, they make you unsure or unconfident in what you say. They can also make your speech seem disorganized and unclear.

These words can also distract your listeners and prevent them from understanding your message. Using too many of them can indicate that you are nervous or unprepared.  Sometimes, it makes you look like you are lying. These terms also take up space and time in your speech, making it challenging to convey your message effectively.

How to Avoid Filler Words in Writing?

Filler phrases impact your writing and can make you look unprofessional. However, you can avoid them using the following tips; 

  1.  Plan and outline your writing before you begin. This will help you organize your ideas and prevent using these words while thinking about what to say next.
  2.  Be concise and direct in your writing. Avoid using words or phrases that add little to no value to your sentences. 
  3.  Use active voice instead of passive voice. This will help you avoid stuffing words and make your writing more engaging and direct.
    • Take the time to revise and edit. As you read through your work, pay attention to any filler phrases you may have and remove them. 

How to Avoid Filler Words in Speech?

When filler words appear in speech, they also make you look unprepared. Read our how to write a speech guide and apply the following tips: 

  1.  Practice speaking out loud with a friend or family member to become more aware of how you use stuffing words.
  2.  Pause before speaking to give yourself time to organize your thoughts.
  3.  Use alternative phrases to fill pauses, such as “let me think” or “let me see,” instead of using filler words.
  4.  Focus on delivering your message clearly and concisely, and avoid using filler phrases to fill gaps in your speech. 
  5.  Eliminate unnecessary phrases to create a compelling and engaging speech.

Conclusion

Filler terms are common in both speech and writing. While they seem to have no harm, they can make you seem unprepared or unconfident in whatever you say. Use the above tips to break this bad habit and make conversations more efficient. 


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