8 little phrases you’re using every day that make you sound less intelligent

It’s one of those things you might not even realize you’re doing:

You’re chatting with coworkers, friends, or maybe even in a job interview, and you’re casually tossing around phrases. Phrases you use every day without a second thought.

You’ve probably never considered the impact these little phrases can have on how others perceive your intelligence.

Here’s how to identify those tricky little phrases that are making you sound less intelligent than you are.

Even if it means facing some uncomfortable truths about your everyday language habits. Let’s dive in and shed some light on these common conversational culprits.

1) Overusing “like” and “literally”

We’ve all been there. Mid-conversation, struggling for the right word, and out slips a “like” or a “literally”. It’s an easy trap to fall into – these words have become filler phrases in our everyday language.

But let me tell you, overusing these words can make you sound less intelligent than you actually are. It gives the impression that you can’t articulate your thoughts clearly, that you’re grasping for words.

And let’s not even get started on “literally”. This word is so chronically overused it’s often applied in situations where it makes no sense at all. The result? You end up sounding less informed and credible.

So, it’s time to check yourself before the next “like” slips out. Swap out these filler words for a pause to gather your thoughts. You’ll discover that silence can be more powerful – and intelligent-sounding – than a misplaced “like” or “literally”.

2) Constant use of “I think”

I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of this one. Starting sentences with “I think” has been a bit of a verbal tic for me. It seemed harmless enough, just a way to introduce my thoughts and ideas.

But, what I didn’t realize was how much it was diluting my statements. By constantly using “I think”, I was inadvertently making my opinions sound less certain and less confident. It was as if I was asking for validation rather than simply stating my perspective.

I remember once during a team meeting, I said, “I think we should implement this strategy.” My boss pointedly asked, “You think, or you know?” That’s when the penny dropped. The phrase “I think” made me sound less confident and therefore, less intelligent.

Now, I consciously try to drop the “I think” from my sentences where it’s not necessary. Instead of “I think this is a good idea,” I say “This is a good idea.” It’s amazing how much more assertive and intelligent this simple change can make you sound.

3) Abusing “um” and “uh”

Mark Twain once said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

I take this to heart, especially when it comes to the notorious “um” and “uh”. These little verbal crutches that we lean on when we’re searching for the right word or when we need a moment to gather our thoughts.

But here’s the thing, these filler words don’t make us sound thoughtful. They make us sound unsure. And unsure certainly does not equate to sounding intelligent.

Instead of filling the silence with “um” and “uh”, take Twain’s advice.

Embrace the pause. Let your silence do the talking while you search for the right words. And when you do speak, you’ll sound more deliberate, more confident, and yes, more intelligent.

4) Relying on “just”

Did you know that the word “just” is often referred to as a permission word? It’s true. By injecting “just” into your sentences, you’re subtly asking for permission, which can make you sound less assertive and therefore less intelligent.

For example, saying “I’m just wondering if you have time for a meeting” sounds less confident than “Do you have time for a meeting?” By removing that little word, your question suddenly sounds more direct and clear.

Similarly, starting a sentence with “Just wanted to let you know,” minimizes your message before it’s even been heard. Instead try, “I wanted to let you know,” or better yet, get straight to the point with what you want to say.

5) Overdoing “you know”

Following in the footsteps of “like” and “literally”, let’s talk about another phrase that’s sneakily undermining your intelligence: “You know”.

While this phrase may seem harmless, it can actually be quite damaging. Because when you say “you know”, you’re essentially assuming that the other person already understands your point of view. But what if they don’t? You come off as dismissive and possibly even arrogant.

Moreover, overusing “you know” can make you sound uncertain and less articulate. It gives off the impression that you’re not sure whether your listener is following along or that you’re unable to explain your thoughts clearly.

Instead of falling back on “you know”, aim for clarity in your communication. Make sure to explain your thoughts properly and check for understanding by asking, “Does that make sense?” or “Do you follow?”

This way, you come across as considerate, intelligent, and genuinely interested in making sure your message gets across.

6) Misusing “literally”

We briefly touched on this earlier, but the misuse of the word “literally” deserves its own spotlight. This little word has been so overused and misused that it’s almost lost its real meaning.

“Literally” is meant to stress that something is not exaggerated or metaphorical, but exactly how it is. However, more often than not, it’s used for emphasis in situations that are anything but literal.

For example, saying “I’m literally dying of laughter” when you’re merely chuckling gives off the impression that you’re not quite sure of what “literally” means. And well, that doesn’t exactly make you sound smart.

Stick to using “literally” when you mean something exactly as it is. Not only will this help you sound more intelligent, but it will also preserve the word’s true meaning for those rare occasions when you need it most.

7) Falling into the “actually” trap

Let’s talk about another word that’s often overused and misused – “actually”. It’s a word that’s meant to signify something surprising or contradictory to what was previously believed.

But let’s be honest, most of the time when we use “actually”, it’s not for its intended purpose. Instead, it often serves as a filler word that doesn’t really add much meaning to our sentences.

For instance, saying “I actually don’t like coffee” when someone hasn’t suggested that you do, makes the “actually” redundant. And redundancy can make you sound less intelligent.

Moreover, using “actually” too often can also make you come across as condescending or argumentative, neither of which are particularly intelligent traits.

8) The dreaded “stuff” and “things”

Let’s end with arguably the most important point: the use of vague words like “stuff” and “things”. These words are the ultimate conversation killers. They contribute nothing to a discussion, make you sound less articulate, and honestly, they’re just plain lazy.

For example, saying “I have a lot of things to do” or “I bought some stuff” doesn’t give any specifics. It lacks clarity and precision, two key traits that intelligent people are known for.

Not to mention, using such vague language can make it harder for people to connect with what you’re saying or understand your point of view.

Here’s my advice: Be specific. Instead of saying “things”, say what those things actually are. Instead of “stuff”, name the stuff. Your conversations will instantly become more engaging, and you’ll sound a whole lot smarter.

Wrapping it up

Have you found yourself nodding along as you read through this list? Are you now more aware of these little phrases that have been sneaking into your everyday language?

If so, don’t fret. We’ve all been there. Language is a living, breathing entity, constantly evolving, and we’re all learning as we go.

Awareness is the first step towards change. Now that you’re aware of these phrases and the impact they can have on how others perceive your intelligence, you’re in a position to do something about it.

It won’t be an overnight process. Catching yourself mid-sentence and replacing these phrases with more assertive, specific language will take practice.

Every small change you make helps to build a new habit.

The goal here isn’t just about sounding more intelligent.

It’s about expressing your thoughts and ideas more clearly, confidently, and authentically. It’s about honoring the intelligence within you and letting it shine through in your conversations.

So, why not start today?

The next time you catch yourself about to say “like” or “literally”, pause. Take a moment to find the right words. You might just surprise yourself at how intelligent you sound.

And hey, if you need a little help along the way, check out Lumosity’s language games. They’re a fun way to build your vocabulary and sharpen your language skills. It’s never too late to learn and grow.

Mia Zhang

Mia Zhang blends Eastern and Western perspectives in her approach to self-improvement. Her writing explores the intersection of cultural identity and personal growth. Mia encourages readers to embrace their unique backgrounds as a source of strength and inspiration in their life journeys.

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