To Cut or Not to Cut: Filler Words in Your Speech & Writing

To Cut or Not to Cut: Filler Words in Your Speech & Writing

Have you ever muttered something like “em” or “uh” while you paused to think of what to say next? We know you have. This article is about how those interjections detract from the quality of your speech or writing. In fact, they rob your listener or reader of their time. There are two main categories of interjections:

  • Crutch words or gap fillers. We use these in our speech to avoid silence or to link different ideas. You’ll find better ways to reach these objectives below.
  • Filler words. These are used in writing to make the text more fluent and coherent. They are often helpful, but when used in excess, they can clutter your piece of writing. Read on to learn the difference between the two.

🗣️ Crutch Words that Spoil Your Speech

Everybody uses them, even Joe Biden. As a Vice President, he misused the word “literally.” Crutch words are more addictive than cigarettes. Unnecessary gap fillers can ruin your public speaking and business communication.

The girl brings her finger to her lips, calling for silence.

Top 13 Crutch Words & What They Say About You

  1. Honestly is used to emphasize your truthfulness. But why do you need it? This word indicates your self-doubt. Some people use it to hide a lie, so this crutch word generally makes your message less trustworthy.
  2. Actually is the most popular gap filler. It contains no information but tries (in vain) to intensify your statement. This word shows that you like to control everything and that you double-check every fact before believing it.
  3. Basically adds authority to a poorly conveyed statement. If this is your favorite crutch word, you prefer to make a long story short and summarize, emphasizing what matters the most. After talking for a long time, you sum up your message with this word. Basically, that’s it.
  4. Like is a meaningful word when used to compare two objects or people. But when used as a filler word, it sounds “teenagish.” If you often turn to this crutch word, you have the spirit of a child, and you like to be expressive.
  5. At the end of the day. In The English Language Laid Bare, Damp Squid says this is the most irritating phrase out of the two-billion words of the Oxford Corpus. Its synonym, “ultimately,” is also needlessly inserted in conversation. If this empty phrase is your favorite, you enjoy having a backstory even when there is nothing to add.   
  6. Literally usually describes an action or fact that cannot be perceived literally. The speaker’s intention is to be understood in a strict sense. However, in most cases, this word is used with a symbolic statement or exaggeration. If you tend to say this filler word, you like to control how your listeners perceive your message.
  7. So is painfully close to “well.” When it does not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, this word just steals your audience’s time. If this is your go-to word, you hesitate too much before starting anything new and take a lot of time to make a decision.
  8. Well. This crutch word shows that you don’t have much to say or struggle to express yourself. Most likely, public speaking is not one of your strengths. Unlike the other gap fillers, this one does not have an emotional component.
  9. Look invites the listener to see and understand your point of view. We mostly use it when we feel our listener is not paying attention or is opposed to what we are saying. It is an attempt to reach an agreement. If you use “look” often, you probably try to avoid conflicts and prefer to settle any issues peacefully.
  10. Awesome is similar to a “like” on Facebook. We answer with this single word to many things that are anything but awesome. If it is your common word, you keep your distance from people and try not to show your emotions. This crutch word often hides a lack of creative thinking. 
  11. Really is equivalent to an extra exclamation point. When used sparingly, it draws the listener’s attention by making a pause in the intonation. If it is your favorite word, you enjoy irony and have a good sense of humor.  
  12. Totally is very similar to “really,” but with a slight difference. Both intend to highlight your credibility (the result is quite the opposite) but “totally” underlines the superiority of your knowledge (not really).
  13. Great is a milder variant of “awesome.” It indicates your remoteness and lack of interest. Find a more original way to give praise or compliments.

Overcoming Crutch Words: Best Tips

Crutch words irritate listeners. Surprisingly, they irritate speakers as well, as soon as they start paying attention to them. But human communication is a complicated system with multiple factors, which makes it difficult to completely cut out these words. Still, here are four possible ways of reducing the number of times you rely on them.

4 tips that will help you overcome crutch words: slow down, take a deep breath, know what to say, practice.
  1. Slow down.

What is the speed of thought? It takes 50 to 150 milliseconds for our brain to react to simple stimuli. When talking, we sometimes need to formulate our ideas in our mind before saying them. This “let me think” time is often filled with crutch words. If you slow down, you will have more time to come up with the right phrases. Listen to popular public speakers. They pause after each sentence. By the way, such pauses help the audience to analyze what has been said.

  1. Take a deep breath.

This is another way to slow down. When we speak, we exhale. Our body needs oxygen, so we need to inhale once in a while. Perceive commas and full stops as signs to breathe. Oxygen saturation influences our mental productivity and will help you think faster. With some practice, you can incorporate this method naturally without anyone noticing.

  1. Know what to say.

Have you noticed that the more nervous you get, the more crutch words you use? When our ideas are disorganized, we are ignorant of where our trail of thought will lead us. This confusion makes us stress out. Try instead to prepare a plan for your speech. That way, if you forget something and start getting nervous, you can review your plan and move to the next point. This strategy isn’t only useful for making your presentation structured; it is also a potent stress-reliever, and all public speakers use it.

  1. Practice.

Everything gets easier with practice. Many people are afraid of silence and try to avoid it using crutch words, but practice will make you more comfortable speaking. You can train at any public event. For example, you can congratulate someone during a special occasion by saying something more elaborate than just “Wishing you love and health.” Think about what else you can say, and avoid your usual crutch words.

We tend to use crutch words instead of saying, “let me think.” They give us a feeling of security, like a favorite teacup or slippers. The more we get nervous, the more often we employ crutch words. So is it worth it to eliminate them completely?

Our answer is no. Impeccable speech without gap fillers is lifeless and lacks rhythm. However, using these words wisely adds emphasis to specific points and emotionally influences the listener. They make us sound “natural” and relaxed. Plus, it might just be too hard to get rid of them completely.

✍️ Are Fillers Interest Killers? Filler Words in Writing

Fillers are not as harmful as crutch words. We control our writing more effectively than our speech because we can stop to think as long as we need. Still, you should omit some phrases to make your writing more engaging.

A girl lies, resting her head on the table near the laptop.

Some academic sources insist on using linking phrases, such as “moreover,” “however,” or even “having considered everything mentioned above.” Modern blogging and academia are moving away from this tradition and prefer the concept of concise writing. Fillers distract the reader from the main idea, often wasting their time.

Concise Writing: Why Does It Matter?

Post-modern society has witnessed a tendency to simplify everything it can. We are lost in a sea of unnecessary information. Research has found that we use only 37% of the information taught at school. Of course, there’s also the continuous flow of advertisement and social media updates that inundate us.

That is why information overload is the problem of the 21st century. Some years from now, scientists will probably find a way to decrease its effect, but for now we have only one option – to communicate more concisely. The definition of concise writing is simple: use as few words as possible to convey your message. Below you will find some advice on how to slim down your word count.

48 Fillers You Should Drop to Write Concisely

If you intend to make your writing concise, avoid these words. We have grouped them into four categories for your convenience. In most cases, these English fillers are superfluous. Sometimes, however, fillers create a necessary rhythm or make the text sound “natural,” so you’ll need to review them on a case-by-case basis.

The 4 main types of filler words in writing are: redundant words, nominalizations, vague words, and empty phrases.

Redundant Words

Redundant words repeat the meaning of other words in the sentence. If it is possible to say the same thing in fewer words, always do so.

  1. Absolutely + necessary or essential:

Example: Love was absolutely essential to her happiness.

Revision: Love was essential for her happiness.

  1. Entirely:

Example: The virus will be entirely eliminated.

Revision: The virus will be eliminated.

  1. Completely:

Example: He was completely sure the girl would say “yes.”

Revision: He was sure the girl would say “yes.”

  1. Possibly:

Example: He could possibly become the next president.

Revision: He could become the next president.

  1. Brief + moment:

Example: For a brief moment, he remained speechless.

Revision: For a moment, he remained speechless.

  1. Ask + the question:

Example: I asked her a question about our plans.

Revision: I asked her about our plans.

  1. Actual + facts:

Example: The policeman submitted the actual facts about the case.

Revision: The policeman submitted the facts about the case.

  1. Accordingly:

Example: Accordingly, ask before making changes next time.

Revision: Ask before making changes next time.

  1. ATM machine: (The abbreviation “ATM” stands for “automated teller machine.”)

Example: The ATM machine is around the corner.

Revision: The ATM is around the corner.

  1. Enter in:

Example: He entered in his childhood room.

Revision: He entered his childhood room.

  1. So or very:

Example: I was so glad to see him.

Revision: I was glad to see him.

  1. Still remains:

Example: The author still remains the most prominent figure of the 19th century.

Revision: The author remains the most prominent figure of the 19th century.

Nominalizations

Nominalization is when you use a noun instead of a verb or adjective. This practice usually slows the reader down. Since action words – like verbs – are more dynamic, you should try to avoid unnecessary nominalizations. Here are some examples:

  1. Definition:

Example: Her definition of self-care was getting enough sleep and eating well.

Revision: She defined self-care as getting enough sleep and eating well.

  1. Accuracy:

Example: The accuracy of our study was insufficient.

Revision: Our study was inaccurate.

  1. Description:

Example: Provide a description of the design you prefer.

Revision: Please describe the design you prefer.

  1. Had a discussion concerning:

Example: They had a discussion concerning the business perspectives.

Revision: They discussed the business perspectives.

  1. Had a conversation about:

Example: They had a conversation about their relationships.

Revision: They discussed their relationships.

  1. Have a need for:

Example: I have a need for a day off.

Revision: I need a day off.

  1. Increase in strength:

Example: Their love increased in strength.

Revision: Their love grew stronger.

  1. Is aware of:

Example: He was aware of her hatred.

Revision: He realized she hated him.

  1. Is in love with:

Example: They are in love with each other.

Revision: They love each other.

  1. Lack the ability to:

Example: I lack the ability to wake up early in the morning.

Revision: I cannot wake up early in the morning.

  1. Make a decision to:

Example: I couldn’t make a decision to end our communication.

Revision: I couldn’t decide to end our communication.

  1. Reaction:

Example: His reaction offended me.

Revision: The way he reacted offended me.

Vague Words

Vague language is common in colloquial speech, but in writing, it looks unprofessional. Vague words lack solid definitions. Avoid the words below or replace them, following the instructions.

  1. About:

Example: About 100 visitors left reviews.

Revision: Approximately 100 visitors left reviews.

  1. Almost:

Example: It was almost time to leave.

Revision: They left a few minutes later.

  1. Get:

Example: You need to get stronger.

Revision: You need to become stronger.

  1. Get out of:

Example: The building is on fire; get out of it.

Revision: You need to exit the building because it’s on fire.

  1. Individual:

Example: Any individual shall have a place of residence.

Revision: Any person shall have a place of residence.

  1. Initial.

Example: My initial thought was to leave.

Revision: At first, I thought to leave.

  1. You’re going to have to:

Example: You’re going to have to finish this at home.

Revision: You must finish this at home.

  1. Make available:

Example: Our service makes available multiple useful features.

Revision: Our service presents multiple useful features.

  1. Area:

Example: We left the area.

Revision: We left the country.

  1. Aspect:

Example: Planning is my least favorite aspect of traveling.

Revision: I like to travel, but I do not like to plan.

  1. Situation:

Example: The situation grew dangerous.

Revision: The uprising grew dangerous.

  1. Small, big, good, or bad:

Example: He was a good person.

Revision: He was a kind and caring person.

Empty Phrases

Empty phrases mean nothing in the literal sense. By the way, “in the literal sense” is also a meaningless phrase. These words distract the reader from your message and can sound colloquial. In many cases, you can do without them or replace them with a more meaningful construction.

Two pieces of empty eggshell lying on a white table.

All things being equal:

Example: All things being equal, we will earn twice as much next year.

Revision: If all goes well, we will earn twice as much next year.

  1. Due to the fact that:

Example: Due to the fact that he is a doctor, he minds his health.

Revision: Since he is a doctor, he minds his health.

  1. For all intents and purposes:

Example: For all intents and purposes, the protagonist will die in the end.

Revision: In the end, the protagonist will die.

  1. For the most part:

Example: For the most part, I like Chinese food.

Revision: I like Chinese food.

  1. For the purpose of:

Example: I go in for sport for the purpose of keeping in shape.

Revision: I go in for sport to keep in shape.

  1. Go ahead:

Example: Go ahead and kill that bug.

Revision: Kill that bug.

  1. Harder than it has to be:

Example: The woman made their relationship harder than it had to be.

Revision: The woman made their relationship harder than necessary.

  1. Here’s the thing:

Example: I’ll tell you the story. Here’s the thing.

Revision: I’ll tell you the story. Once upon a time…

  1. I feel/believe that:

Example: I believe that I am capable of doing it.

Revision: I am capable of doing it.

  1. I might add:

Example: He is handsome, I might add.

Revision: He is handsome.

  1. Integrate with each other:

Example: The devices must integrate with each other to function correctly.

Revision: The devices must integrate to function correctly.

  1. In terms of:

Example: His new position was perfect in terms of salary.

Revision: The salary was perfect in his new position.

Bad & Better Examples

Example #1: A Bad Cover Letter

Dear Sir,

In the follow-up to my job application, please kindly consider this cover letter.

First of all, I have been working as a teacher for multiple years. My initial experience started at the nursery school in the local area. However, I also tutored several classes in Junior School. Secondly, during the vacations, I arranged outdoor events for pupils who stayed at home and did not have a chance to travel. Thirdly, my passion to communicate with children is the definition of my work.

In terms of in-class atmosphere, I created a nurturing and friendly environment where all the children felt comfortable. In addition, I rigorously prepared the plans for each day, week, and term. Furthermore, I established strict rules of behavior in the classroom and outdoors and entirely ensured their observance.

I might add that I do my best for the purpose of comprehensive development of children and their successful integration into adult life. I possibly try to integrate contemporary teaching methods with each other to generate my own teaching style.

To conclude, I believe that my skills and knowledge are completely sufficient for the position of Junior School teacher. I feel that my experience will make a good contribution to the tutoring process.

Example #2: A Better Cover Letter

Dear Sir,

In the follow-up to my job application, please kindly consider this cover letter.

I have been working as a teacher for five years. My working experience started at Dallas Nursery School. I also tutored several classes in Junior School. During the vacations, I arranged outdoor events for pupils who stayed at home. My work is centered around my passion to communicate with children.

I created a nurturing and friendly environment where the children felt comfortable. I prepared specific plans for each day, week, and term. I established rules of behavior in the classroom and outdoors and ensured their strict observance.

I do my best to support the children’s comprehensive development and their successful integration into adult life. I try to incorporate contemporary teaching methods and generate my own personal teaching style.

My skills and knowledge make me a perfect fit for the position of Junior School teacher. My experience will tangibly contribute to the tutoring process.

In the above example, all the filler words were deleted to illustrate how informative and concise your writing can look without them. But you can still use them on occasion to sound natural and spontaneous. The principal criterion here is to write or say every word consciously. Excessive wordiness can hide the meaning you intend to convey. Besides, lengthy texts are read less attentively.

If you can say a phrase with fewer words, be sure to do so. Avoid filler and crutch words as much as possible. Please share your “favorite” words and phrases in the comments below. Which linguistic habit would you like to get rid of?

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