Fillers words such as um or uh are words, sounds, or phrases people use to “fill in” empty spaces in communication. In speech, they usually indicate the speaker is thinking about what to say next, while in writing they’re often clichés or padding.
In most cases, filler words have a negative effect and reflect poorly on your communication skills. But because they come out unconsciously, they can be hard to, you know, stop.
Below, we discuss the importance of filler words—especially how to avoid them! We provide a filler words list so you know what to look for, and share some expert advice on removing them to improve your communication.
What are filler words?
Also known as discourse markers, filler words are what we use when we don’t know what else to say. More often than not, they’re unintentional; we use them subconsciously to fill the space or time while we prepare our main message.
Fillers words are most prevalent in speech. When speaking, our brains occasionally need to stall while thinking about what to say next or which words to use. Filler words can also indicate a specific mood or emotion, such as good-natured hesitation before delivering bad news.
The problem with filler words
If filler words are natural and subconscious, why are they so bad? Good communication, both in speech and writing, demands conciseness. Essentially, the fewer words you use, the stronger your words become. When you remove all the unnecessary words, the listener or reader can focus more on the remaining, necessary words.
The problem with filler words is that they’re unnecessary. They don’t add anything to your message; they only distract from your other words. Filler words weigh down a sentence and can add up to throw off the entire paragraph structure.
Like editing a draft, removing the unnecessary filler words strengthens your remaining words, helping you communicate both clearly and succinctly.
Filler words in writing
Filler words also exist in writing, although for different purposes. Filler words in writing are typically clichés writers use when they can’t think of something more accurate or original. At other times, they come out accidentally when a writer struggles to explain something difficult. Then there are filler words for essays, which can be used on purpose to meet the assigned word count.
Filler words in writing are easy to handle because you can edit them out later, unlike in speech. However, don’t be overzealous and remove words that are not filler. For example, transition words and phrases like however and in addtion serve a necessary purpose in writing—they smooth over abrupt changes in topics. Don’t mistake these working words with unnecessary filler words.
For specific advice on how to improve your writing with or without filler words, check out our writing guide for more tips.
Filler words list
To help you identify filler words in your own speech and writing, here’s a filler word list of the most common ones.
um, uh, oh, er, ah
These are the basic filler words—or filler sounds—that people use when speaking. Aside from filling in time while we prepare our next words, the only other purpose they serve is to show reluctance or hesitation.
very, really, highly
The adverbs of intensity, very, really, and highly are often mistakenly used in situations where they don’t add anything. Save them for the times when you really need them.
One of the most notorious filler words, like is common in speech when the speaker prepares their next words. Don’t confuse like as a filler word in its usage in comparisons or for showing a fondness for something.
Just is not always a filler word; it can show a recent action or act as a synonym for merely. However, just can easily be overused; try rewriting the sentence without it and see if the meaning changes.
you know, you see, right
You know, you see, and right are useful at the end of a statement to invite a response from the listener, but in most other instances they are unnecessary.
I mean, I guess, I suppose
Beginning sentences with I mean, I guess, or I suppose is hedging language, words that soften or undermine the statement. These filler words come across as too passive, as if the speaker or writer is unsure. Confident communication is better.
totally, literally, seriously
Totally, literally, and seriously each have practical meanings when used properly, but they’re often misused as filler words. Unless you’re using them with their dictionary definitions, try to avoid them.
How to avoid filler words
If you want to write better sentences or speak more confidently, you have to learn how to avoid filler words. Here are some quick tips.
Test the sentence without the filler words
How do you know if you’re using words correctly or as filler words? Try the sentence without the filler words and see if the meaning changes.
I just got out of the shower.
I got out of the shower.
Without just, we don’t know when the event occurred, so the meaning changes. That means just is useful here, so it’s not a filler word.
Could you just send me the file?
Could you send me the file?
Here, without just the meaning does not change. That makes it a filler word, and you can safely remove it.
If you find yourself using too many filler words when speaking, it could be a sign of social anxiety or glossophobia (fear of public speaking). One remedy is to slow down your speech, both to give you extra time to think and to make the conversation more relaxed.
By consciously slowing down your speech, you’ll have more time to plan the words in your head before speaking them out loud, removing the need for filler words in the first place. You’ll also sound more confident, as speaking quickly is a sign of nervousness and uncertainty.
Embrace the silence
Despite fear of the “awkward silence,” a momentary pause in speech can be a powerful communication tool. A silence at the right time can urge your listener to reflect on your words, adding more significance to what was said last.
If you’re not sure of what to say next, don’t say anything at all. Keep calm and the words will come to you on their own. In the meantime, a small silence is often better than a string of filler words.
Filler words FAQs
What are filler words?
Filler words such as uh or like are words, sounds, or phrases we use to “fill in” the space when we don’t know what to say. Although more common in speech, filler words also exist in writing as “extra” words that don’t add any new information.
How do filler words work?
Filler words are often unintentional; they happen subconsciously as our brains stall for more time to think of what to say. However, they’re almost always unnecessary. Your communication will be clearer and more direct if you avoid using them.
How do you eliminate them?
You can easily eliminate filler words in writing by editing them out, as long as you can identify them (see our filler word list). If you’re having trouble with filler words in speech, try speaking slower to give yourself more time to think, and don’t be afraid of a momentary silence—quiet is better than a string of filler words.