11 phrases smart people never use in a conversation

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Have you ever been out at an event mixing around, and you find yourself gravitating towards a group clustered around one person?

There’s something about the way they speak that’s enthralling and magnetic, and you and everyone else are spellbound.

But suddenly, the bubble bursts when they say something stupid, callous, or downright rude.

Yes, some people are great speakers and storytellers, but they can make mistakes and alienate their listeners in a flash if they’re not intelligent.

There are so many things to talk about, and really only a small number that will make someone look truly unintelligent.

So, if you want to know what to avoid, here are 11 phrases smart people never use in a conversation.

1) “That wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

Hmm, I bet this was meant as a compliment, but it sure doesn’t sound like one.

Expecting something to be bad really tells someone that you thought the worst of them and their abilities.

I made a soup once, and my chef friend came over and tried it. This was his comment.

As you can guess, I felt a lot more insulted than praised.

He could simply have said it was nice, but instead, he was more than happy to reveal that he thought I wasn’t good enough to make something he’d enjoy.

Yeah, thanks.

2) “Not fair”

Life isn’t fair, not in the magnanimous kindergarten way we’re taught to expect.

Sure, you might live in a democratic country where one person gets one vote, but we all know that money and influence have just as much political power.

We’re not all born equal, either.

Some people are smarter, some are better-looking, and some are healthier, too.

So you won’t catch many smart people using the phrase “not fair” in their speech. They know that things normally aren’t fair, and they just have to deal with it.

They work on the things they can affect and accept the things they can’t.

3) “What I hate is…”

First off, people rarely want to hear about your pet peeves and minor annoyances. And saying you hate small things unless you’re being dramatic or funny can seem really over the top. 

“I hate pickles!”

Well, uh, don’t eat them.

On the other hand, if you really and truly hate something, it can sound overly emotional and irrational when you say it out loud.

“I hate indiscriminate pollution!”

Are you sure you should say things like this out loud?

Smart people usually aren’t. In fact, they usually keep their strong feelings to themselves or express them only in certain company. 

4) “It is what it is”

This statement is so redundant and obvious it really has no meaning at all.

Or does it?

Grammatically, it’s just a circular statement that relates something to itself, like a snake eating its own tail.

So why do some people say it?

It’s meant to be a statement of acceptance of the way things are, and that’s not something that smart people would necessarily have an issue with.

Like I said earlier, intelligent people know when to accept things they can’t affect.

However, the reason smart people don’t use this phrase in conversation is that it’s a cliché that’s a lazy statement. You’d be a lot better off saying something like, “There’s nothing we can do to change that,” or “I’ll just have to accept it.”

5) “_____ for a ______”

This doesn’t look much like a phrase, but it’s a very common structure used in English to attribute adjectives to nouns.

Some examples:

“You’re pretty smart for an intern.”

“She’s clever for a woman.”

“He’s quite intuitive for a man.”

Ew, yeah, those kinds of phrases.

They’re just immediately cringeworthy, aren’t they?

Now, smart people might use this phrase when they talk about things (“This is light for a brioche.”). However, they know that using the phrase for people is almost always demeaning and really pompous sounding.

6) “All _____s are ______”

If this seems like another cryptic fill-in-the-blanks puzzle, allow me to elaborate with some examples.

“All Asians are good at math.”

“All women are overly emotional.”

“All men are cheaters.”

Oh god, could these statements sound any more awful? It hurts my soul just to write them as examples.

These generalizations about groups of people are, of course, never true, even if we think some of them might be positive.

Intelligent people know that “all” is never really true, and they don’t back themselves into corners by making such stereotyped remarks.

Now, one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, once wrote that “All men are jerks, all women are psychotic.” and he’s a very intelligent guy. But he did this for literary effect, making such a bold and assertive statement to intentionally make his readers cringe.

Works, doesn’t it? 

7) “Needless to say…”

This is a particularly bizarre phrase because it prefaces other statements by commenting that they don’t need to be said.

But then why would you say them?

To look smart, I suppose.

“Needless to say, Nixon was a controversial president.”

If you say it doesn’t need to be said, then you say it anyway; I can only assume you think other people don’t know, and you want them to feel dumb for not knowing.

If you want to say something that everyone knows to bring up the subject, then you can just say it in that context.

“Nixon was a controversial president, and this new biography will likely inspire even more controversy.”

Smart people don’t need to make others feel dumb to make themselves seem more intelligent.

8) “We’ve always done it this way”

Unless this statement is followed by a “but” or a “because,” you’re not going to hear smart people use it in a conversation.

Why not?

Without a continuation, this phrase is given as a reason, and smart people know that doing something just because it has always been done isn’t a good reason at all.

That’s not to say that they don’t have traditions and are totally nihilistic. They just have reasons for the things they do, or else they try to find them.

Now, if you hear, “We’ve always done it this way because it has been the most effective strategy, but new technology is offering us a better option,” for example, that’s the only way a smart person would authentically use this phrase.

9) “No offense, but…”

Here’s another really bizarre phrase that smart people tend to avoid.

If someone says this, you can be almost entirely sure that some offense is coming.

As in, “No offense, but that’s a terrible idea.”

Great. You think my idea is terrible? No, no offense taken. None at all!

Come on, we all know that while this phrase is used to soften the blow, it really doesn’t work.

When smart people need to criticize something, they’ll do it in a more intelligent manner.

Something like, “That’s an interesting idea, but I think there might be some issues with it, such as…”

That’s a bit nicer, isn’t it?

The blow is effectively softened, and the other person will probably continue contributing to the brainstorming effort rather than feeling insulted and put off.

10) “I told you so”

Here’s one of the most unpopular phrases in all of the English language. I presume it doesn’t translate nicely, either.

We use this phrase and its variations to gloat or to sarcastically blame someone for not listening to our advice.

But smart people know that this is the last thing people want to hear. They know that if you told someone that some effect would arise from their actions and they didn’t heed your warning, they probably had their own reasons.

Sometimes, people have to learn from their own mistakes. 

Sometimes, we don’t make ourselves clear or convincing enough.

Sometimes, people simply don’t listen.

In any case, smart people know they can only do so much, and they can’t and shouldn’t want to control others. 

So if their advice is ignored, so be it.

11) “This won’t take long”

Estimating how long it will take to perform a task isn’t always easy.

Even if it’s something you’ve done a bajillion times before, there’s still always the chance that something could go wrong.

You could have missed something that makes this task unique, or you could be affected by outside influences.

Things can always take longer than we think.

Smart people, knowing that, will couch their estimations of time. They’ll make it clear with phrases like, “This shouldn’t take long if all goes well” or “This normally doesn’t take long to do” that time is uncertain, fickle, and largely out of their control.


These 11 phrases smart people never use in a conversation are things that others use frequently.

When you hear them, they help you identify just how intelligent the person talking is.

And if you want to appear smarter in your conversations, these phrases are certainly things you’d be well-advised to avoid.

7 mistakes highly independent people make in relationships

If someone displays these 8 behaviors, they’re a master manipulator