Let’s compare two phrases:
“I think that, uh, the idea is kind of good, but it’s missing, like, something.”
“I would say the idea in and of itself is sound, but it requires further thought.”
Which sentence sounds more intelligent?
While the intent behind what you say always plays the most significant role, *how* you say it is important, too. Sometimes, your language is the difference between getting an amazing academic or professional opportunity and staying in one place.
If you sound smart, people will naturally assume you’re special.
What can I say? Intelligence is highly valued in society.
Without further ado, these are the 10 clever phrases to sound more intelligent in a conversation.
1) “All things considered…”
So, you want to sound smart, and you think using clever phrases will do the trick.
But here comes the catch. If you use language that’s too pompous or literary, you’ll appear silly rather than intelligent.
I mean, how often do people really say “however” out loud? “But” has the same effect once you wrap intelligent words around it.
The very same thing applies to “in summary”. While academic essays thrive on “to summarize” and “in conclusion”, conversations are a bit more tricky.
This is where “all things considered” comes in. The phrase sounds clever, but it also doesn’t make you sound like a walking academic vocabulary.
If you ever want to wrap up a conversation, “all things considered” is a good way to go.
2) “On a different note…”
Oh, you’re not finished yet?
Well, in that case, you might be looking for ways to change the topic – and “on a different note” is just right.
“….that’s what we agreed on. Yes. On a different note, though, I read that book you’d told me about!”
Isn’t that a lovely seamless transition with a sprinkle of intelligence in the mix?
3) “I’m not particularly fond of…”
“I don’t like her.”
Hmm. I think it’s time to add a bit of sparkle.
“I’m not particularly fond of her.”
“To like” and “to be fond of” is the difference between A1 English and B2 English. Even native English speakers automatically opt for “like”, though, so if you say “I’m fond of…” or “I’m not fond of…” you’ll stand out straight away.
4) “It’s imperative that…”
“We need to look at other ideas, too.”
“It’s imperative that we consider other ideas as well.”
The latter just sounds so much cleverer, doesn’t it?
Careful, though. If you’re going out with someone for coffee and say, “It’s imperative that we get a matcha latte,” you’ll probably sound like you’re putting on a theatre play.
“Imperative” is likely to increase your authority in a professional or academic setting. If you’re conversing with a lecturer or Dan from HR, feel free to whip out “imperative” and shine like a star.
In casual circumstances, though…maybe stick to “important”.
5) “That’s completely irrelevant”
We’ve reached my favorite one on the list!
Imagine you’re in the midst of a heated discussion with someone. They put forward an argument that isn’t related to the matter at hand, so you say, “That’s completely irrelevant, though.”
“Irrelevant” is a wonderful word. While it’s not too specialized to make you sound pretentious, it’s also obscure enough to increase your authority.
If you want to raise a question about what someone’s saying, you can also ask, “How is that relevant?”
Don’t use this phrase at every turn, however. It can make you sound quite aggressive if you use it in the wrong context.
Oh, and speaking of “context”…
6) “We need to contextualize the problem”
I learned the verb “contextualize” during university, and it’s become one of my favorite go-to phrases in academic conversations.
When you contextualize something, you put it into context, i.e., all the circumstances surrounding it. For example, you can’t talk about the success of the Mona Lisa without putting it into the context of the Italian Renaissance.
Here’s how “contextualize” works in a typical conversation: “You’re saying X and Y about Churchill’s writing, but I think you need to contextualize that quote, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.”
Ta-da! There’s a beautiful example of “contextualize” for you.
7) “Let me elaborate…”
“No, that’s not what I meant, I have more things to say!”
Sounds a bit whiny, doesn’t it? Try switching it up: “Maybe I didn’t express myself clearly. Let me elaborate…”
“Elaborate” is one of those intelligent-sounding words that are common enough to be used in casual conversations, but not too common to be considered typical.
The next time you want to go into more depth on a certain topic, “let me elaborate” will serve as a clever phrase that gets you there seamlessly and with grace.
8) “What a conundrum!”
Alright, the time has come for us to move on to some fun and clever words.
While these aren’t too weird to make you sound like you’ve never uttered a word out loud in your life, they’re still clever enough to ensure you stand out.
And “conundrum” is one such word. “Conundrum” essentially means “a difficult problem”, except it sounds fancier.
“I wanted to go to the gym during my lunch break, but I also really need to run some errands. Ugh, what a conundrum!”
I actually use this phrase quite often, and I’d say that about 6 out of 10 people respond with a confused look and go on to ask me what it means. The other 4 are mildly impressed.
9) “It’s a very striking juxtaposition”
Let’s take it up a notch and talk about the marvel that is the word “juxtaposition”.
Yet another fancy word I learned at university, “juxtaposition” happens when you place two different things side by side in order to highlight those differences.
This could be two opposing academic ideas, but it could also be paintings, turns of phrase, or inherent opposites in nature, such as day and night or black and white.
You don’t have to use “juxtaposition” only when you’re in a museum or in class, however.
If you’re ever in the middle of a conversation and suddenly see two differences side by side, be it in the world around you or in what the other person is saying, you can say, “That’s a really striking juxtaposition.”
I can guarantee you’ll immediately sound more intelligent.
10) “I’m in a bit of a liminal space at the moment”
“A liminal space” is a transition between what was and what will happen next. It’s characterized by feelings of uncertainty because you’re basically on the edge of a cliff and about to jump into a new era of your life.
Just graduated and unsure of what to do next? You’re in a liminal space.
Changing careers? Liminal space.
Starting a business? Yep, liminal space.
If a friend ever asks you about how things are going, you now have a clever phrase that sounds so much better than “eh, yeah, I’m okay”.
“I’m in a bit of a liminal space at the moment, so things feel scary but also exciting.”
Not only does this phrase make you sound clever, but it also describes this particular stage of your life so perfectly that no other phrase could ever compare.
And if that’s not intelligent, I don’t know what is.