Alternatives to “Like”, “You Know”, and “Umm..”

In my  last post, we talked a bit about the importance of using filler words and sounds that fit the language that you’re learning: “umm…” in English, “euh…” in French, “ähh…” in German.

But maybe you don’t want to umm and ahh. Those sounds can work really well in casual situations, but they aren’t always the best choice in a more professional setting, especially a very conservative one.

So what can you do to buy yourself a moment to think about what to say next? And how can you do it without saying “like”, “you know”, and “umm…”?The key is to use “filler” words and phrases that have more meaning. That means that, unlike “umm”, they’ll only make sense in some contexts. But used correctly they’ll be much less noticeable than “like”.

Another way to bring less attention to your fillers is to avoid repetition. If you use a particular filler over and over again, it’ll be more noticeable.

Let’s take a look at a few strategies and phrases that can help you when you need time to think, and that aren’t “like”, “you know”, or “umm…”.

Alternative 1:  A thoughtful pause

This is a great strategy if you want to make a bigger, more complicated point. Instead of trying to fill the silence before your point, take control of the pause and look thoughtful. There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to decide how to best structure a complex thought or sentence.


“I didn’t enjoy the film very much. *pause* I thought that the plot moved very slowly, the casting was all wrong, and there were several unbelievable points.”

Alternative 2: Repeat the question

If someone asks you a question, but you need a moment to structure a reply, don’t be afraid to simply repeat the question. This can be particularly useful in a job interview.


“What did I think of the film? I thought the director did an excellent job.”

Alternative 3: “What I mean to say is…”

This is a good way to buy yourself a few seconds of time, and is especially useful if you want to clarify something or be more specific about a previous point.


“I thought the film was excellent. What I mean to say is, it painted a wonderful picture of life in a small town.”

Alternative 4: “At the same time…”

If you want to discuss the other side of an argument or another point of view, this is a good option.


I didn’t enjoy the film very much. At the same time, the cinematography was very beautiful.

Alternative 5: “In addition to that…”

You can use this one if you want to expand on a point.


I thought the film had an excellent plot. In addition to that, I really enjoyed the character development.

Want more words and phrases like this? Keep a look out for part two (coming soon!).

Image by Jamie Montgomery.

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