English Filler Words: The Superheroes of Awkward Silences
Have you ever, like, thought about the quality of words you use in a sentence? Because, um, sometimes, there are too many unnecessary ones. Today, we will talk about filler words in English (you can already spot two examples in the first sentences). What are they, and why do we use them? Are there any reasonable explanations, or maybe it’s just a trendy feature? Buckle up, and let’s figure it out together.
Filler Words in English: Yes or No?
You’ve probably already got the idea of what those filler words are. But is there any scientific definition? Depending on the context, the term “filler” has several meanings. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, we mostly use it to fill in the remaining space. It can be a liquid or physical substance, text, drawing, etc. And in linguistics, sentence fillers are words or sounds we use during pauses in our speech. They are neither good nor bad and have both advantages and drawbacks. You can find a more in-depth explanation below.
Purposes of Using English Fillers
Some people believe that filler words are only a problem for non-fluent speakers. But the truth is that almost everyone uses them in their speeches, and it is not necessarily a question of fluency or extensive vocabulary. Many more reasons explain why we use filler phrases. Here are some of them:
- Filling the “thinking” pauses. Awkward silences are among the most unpleasant things we can experience during conversations. And when they appear, we immediately want to fill them in. Yet, sometimes it is hard to develop a new conversation topic because you need to remember plenty of new words; in this case, the fillers enter.
- Expressing hesitation or uncertainty. Sometimes, the list of filler words shortens to only a few examples. It happens when you are hesitating about something your interlocutor tells you – you kind of believe them and sort of agree with them, but maybe not at all.
- Emphasizing or understating your words. A good reason for using fillers is to add some flavor to your speech. For example, the words “actually” or “really” highlight the importance of the said things, while hesitation fillers can play things down.
- Softening sentences or making them less direct. Filler words might be a great way to sound less harsh or strict when you need to say something unpleasant to your interlocutor. But in this case, you must choose them wisely to avoid sounding less confident or timid.
These reasonable purposes explain the usage of fillers in English, but still don’t give us a complete picture. How can you say whether they are good or bad? To finally answer this question, we need to compare all the benefits and drawbacks of fillers.
Positive and Negative Sides of Fillers in English
Two things impact the connotation of filler words – frequency and context. For example, when you use them in casual conversation, it helps you sound more natural. And this is only one benefit, but take a look at some more:
- It prevents unnecessary pauses.
- It gives you time to think and choose the right words.
- It is a good way to include your interlocutor in the conversation.
- It allows you to express your thoughts more lucidly (by stressing important points and understating insignificant ones).
Despite the extensive list of benefits, many examples of filler words also have a negative side. For example, when writing a book or presenting a public speech, overuse of such phrases can become pretty dangerous. Look at the main disadvantages of English fillers:
- You constantly sound unsure and unprepared.
- You forget the main point.
- You show a lack of self-confidence.
- You sound less credible.
Pretty impressive list, huh? Apparently, these filler words are not as harmless as they look. However, sometimes they are irreplaceable. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into avoiding them; it is nearly impossible to talk a hundred percent clearly, bypassing the smallest fillers. In this case, knowing your enemy and using suitable variations in different citcumstantions is better.
Verbal Fillers Examples: Explained
Filler words might be tricky, as there is no comprehensive list of them all. Sometimes, people make regular phrases become fillers simply by overusing them. Yet, there are some common examples you can hear everywhere. Look at our filler words list below.
These are not words but sounds, and they are very popular fillers. When you hear them a lot, you can be sure that your interlocutor is hesitant and uncertain about something, and they may not have any strong position regarding the conversation topics. For example:
Q: What do you think about The Great Gatsby? I’ve just finished it, and I’m so impressed!
A: Um… Yeah, er, I think it’s great, uh…
Q: You can just say that you haven’t read it yet.
A: Yeah, I didn’t.
It is also a filler sound, but unlike the previous ones, it is a bit stronger. It indicates that you are thinking about or considering something before answering/making a decision. It is quite harmless (unless you do it every time you speak or pause for five minutes). For example:
Q: Do you want pizza or pasta for dinner?
A: Hmm… I would go for a pizza.
X: Do you want to catch up later?
Y: Hmm… I was planning to finish my project, but it can wait till tomorrow. I’m in!
This filler word is notorious. Firstly, it has several meanings. It can stress that something is not exact; it can also be frequently used when a person doesn’t know what to say and tries to come up with the right words. “Like” is also used when comparing two things, but that is not today’s case. Here are some examples of this word as a filler:
She has, like, what, ten, eleven cars?
And then I was, like, running toward him, but he was like doing his best to like to ignore me.
Dude, where are you? We should’ve met like an hour ago!
These are very tricky filler words examples, since their utility depends on the context in which you use them. Sometimes, they might be unnecessary, and sometimes – irreplaceable. For example:
I highly recommend this hotel – you will enjoy it!
I don’t actually know the answer, but I’ll do my best to figure it out.
She is so very happy now.
- Or something.
Another great (not really) filler that indicates doubts, hesitations, and uncertainty. Using it once or twice might be fun, but too much is too much – don’t do it if you want to sound credible. For example:
Q: Have you seen La La Land?
A: No, but I’ve heard it’s about dancing or something.
X: I’m so bored because I don’t want to do anything.
Y: Well, try sleeping or something.
- You know?
This filler word is often used as a tag question (remember, the one at the end of the sentence) to seek confirmation or agreement from the listener. For example:
And I was like, you know, devastated by this news.
So she’s coming to a party, you know?
Mon went to the mall yesterday, you know? And there were so many amazing shoes on sale.
When we think about this filler, the first thing that comes to mind is the versatile Swiss knife. We can use it in so many ways – to fill a pause, buy some time to think, or even soften the impact of the statement. For example:
Q: Are you going on a date with James?
A: Well, I don’t know yet, but I hope I am.
X: Can you help me with the homework?
Y: Well, I don’t know. I’m not good at math.
Imagine that: you are trying to explain something horribly complex, and you see that your listeners don’t understand what you are saying. To simplify, add the filler word “basically” and see the magic happen. For example:
Q: How do you feel now, mate?
A: I’m better, thank you! I thought that I had some mental health issues, but basically, all I actually needed was good sleep.
X: How was the night? You look tired.
Y: That’s because I woke up this morning and realized that I basically don’t have coffee at home.
Tips and Strategies for Cutting the Usage of Fillers
Eventually, we can say that English filler phrases negatively impact our general speaking skills. Despite the ability to sound more natural and have time to think, they ruin the impression we make in other people’s eyes and make us look less credible and confident. However, some tips can help us reduce the usage of filler words.
First, you should understand whether you even have this problem. If you’ve noticed a few fillers in your speech, that’s alright; but if you realize that you can’t say a word without adding them, there might be something to work on. But before doing that, try to figure out the exact words you overuse and the situations in which you do so.
After determining the most frequent filler words, give yourself some time. Don’t speak fast; focus on what you are saying to catch problematic phrases instead. Pausing between thoughts gives you enough time to gather your words and helps to eliminate the need for fillers.
Work on Your Language Skills
Never stop practicing, regardless of your current fluency level. Work on pronunciation, learn new words and phrases, and become an active listener. All these skills not only broaden your horizon and influence your general proficiency but also allow you to reduce the level of filler words and improve the clarity of your communication.
Practice Public Speaking
Engaging in public and social events can help you become more comfortable speaking in front of others. Practice delivering speeches or presentations, and seek constructive feedback to improve your speaking skills. As you become more confident and fluent, you’ll naturally reduce the usage of fillers.
Beat the Filler Monsters with Promova
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After joining Promova, you can say goodbye to tedious lessons, boring homework, and destructive self-doubts whenever you need to speak English. Here, we cultivate self-confidence, making our students reach their goals much faster than expected. And you can be sure that you are no exception! We are looking forward to meeting you in person and introducing you to the numerous features of Promova.
In summary, filler wordslike uninvited guests at a party may sneak into our conversations. They can serve a purpose, adding a dash of informality or helping us gather our thoughts. However, using them excessively can dilute our message and hinder effective communication. But fear not! Armed with self-awareness, a relaxed pace, and enhanced language skills, you're well-equipped to reduce the usage of fillers. We hope this article was helpful. And please, share your frequently used filler words in the comments!
Do native speakers use filler words?
Absolutely! Native speakers are not immune to filler words. It’s like a linguistic habit that sneaks into our conversations. Sometimes, natives use them even more frequently than language learners, trying to make casual dialogues as simple as possible.
Are there some cases when using filler words is essential?
Yes, these tricky words can still serve a purpose in some situations. For example, when you must emphasize some part of the sentence or show your interlocutor your doubts about a specific topic. However, it is essential to be aware of how these words can impact your communication and avoid using them when possible.
When is it better to avoid filler words?
Generally, it’s better to avoid filler words when you want to convey confidence, clarity, or professionalism. In formal settings like presentations for interviews, minimizing fillers can help you sound more composed and articulate. But hey, don't stress too much – a sprinkle of fillers in casual conversations can add a friendly and relatable touch.
How can I identify the specific filler words I tend to overuse?
It is simple and doesn’t require much effort. Pay attention to your speech patterns, record yourself speaking, or ask a friend to provide feedback. Listen for repetitive words or phrases that don't add much to your message. Once you spot them, you can start consciously working on reducing their frequency.