Have you ever come across a person who seems to have it all together, but when they started talking, they instantly sounded…stupid?
Chances are, they were using phrases that took away from their main message and sends across the wrong impression.
As a lover of all things language, I’ll tell you a little secret: sometimes, it’s not about adding more words to look smart. Sometimes, it’s about ditching the not-so-smart ones!
In this article, I’ll share 15 phrases you should ban from your vocabulary if you want to sound like the intelligent, well-spoken person you truly are. Let’s dive in!
1) “Like/um/you know?”
I’ll begin with the most common words that seem to plague conversations these days, especially “like.”
I know this has become so commonplace that most people aren’t even aware they’re injecting it into their speech. But the truth is, these words – like, um, you know – they’re just fillers.
They do nothing to enhance your message. You’ll actually run the risk of being seen as unsure, unprepared, or lacking confidence.
When you feel the urge to use a filler word, pause instead. Learn to be comfortable with a little silence. That’s going to make you look more decisive and clear about what you want to say.
2) “At this moment in time”
Oh, this one really makes me feel like banging my head on a wall when I hear it. When it comes to language, succinctness is key.
And if you say, “At this moment in time,” that’s anything but concise!
I get it – people use this phrase because they think it sounds smarter than simply saying, “right now.”
But really, it just makes the sentence longer than it has to be. This doesn’t fool anyone; more likely, it just irritates people.
3) “At the end of the day”
Here’s another often-used phrase that makes one’s language longer, but not necessarily smarter.
You know why? Because it’s an overused cliché.
Clichés are kind of a tricky area – there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they also sound tired and unoriginal.
Look, the beauty of language is that you can play around with words and use them to nail your point. There are so many ways to weave words so you can have a distinct and engaging voice.
Expand your linguistic arsenal by reading widely and paying attention to how skilled communicators phrase their thoughts.
4) “I personally”
Speaking of how to phrase your thoughts brings me to this next point. If you’re already saying your thoughts and opinions, that means you’re expressing your personal viewpoint.
So why the need to add the word “personally?”
All that’s doing is adding a layer of uncertainty, a disclaimer of some sort. It makes you look like you’re trying to soften your opinion or distance yourself from it. This can undermine your credibility because it shows you’re not firm.
Plus, it’s redundant.
And when it comes to language, redundancy makes you look cluttered and less focused.
Removing qualifiers and unnecessary words gives your speech the power of brevity and clarity and makes you sound intelligent.
Do you often use this word? I used to pepper my sentences with these, especially when my emotions were running high.
As in, “I was literally blown away by that performance!” Or, He literally makes my blood boil!”
I totally understand why we use this word a lot – it really emphasizes the point we’re making. Unfortunately, it also makes us look less smart.
Because we’re using the word in the wrong way.
Think about it – if I was literally blown away, why am I still here writing this article? If my blood literally boiled, why am I still alive?
So, using “literally” to mean something that’s not literally true just takes away from your message, which should be powerful enough to stand on its own.
This is another qualifier that people use carelessly to the point that it has become cringey to hear.
I once had a co-worker who’d say “basically” every two or three sentences. It could be really distracting and annoying.
But even if you’re a patient person who can take people’s linguistic tics in stride, you’re probably going to notice one thing – it makes one’s message weak.
Remember what I said about conciseness? The same principle applies here.
You want every word that comes out of your mouth to be straight and direct to the point. That’s going to strengthen your communication and make you look smart and confident!
7) “I’m not gonna lie”
Hold up – the minute you say this, I’m going to think one thing: you’re lying. Or, at best, you’re not sure about what you’re saying.
Here’s the deal: when you open with a negative qualifier, you could create doubt in your listener’s mind about your honesty.
The same goes for phrases like, “To be honest,” “To tell you the truth,” and the like. Because why would you feel the need to add those if you’re truly being honest?
Do you see my point?
So, ditch these phrases, and you’ll come across as sure and sincere – you’re so definite about what you’re saying that you don’t need to add anything more!
8) “Same difference”
What exactly does this phrase mean? See, it’s inherently unclear – it seems to suggest that two things are both the same and different at the same time.
I know that people use this to mean that “there’s no difference” in a casual way, but it doesn’t do much to make the meaning clear.
On top of that, the casual tone conveys that you don’t care about what you’re talking about. So if you use this, especially in professional settings, you won’t get any points for sounding smart.
9) “A complete 360-degree change”
I completely get what this means – it means a total turnaround.
But – if we are to remember our math, a 360-degree change would mean the person would be right back where they started. And I’m sure that’s not what you meant.
If you want to say there’s been a complete reversal, say “180-degree” instead. Not only will you sound like you know exactly what you’re talking about, you’ll make your old math teacher happy, too!
10) “I could care less”
Now we get into the dark and messy realm of grammatical eyesores. I’ll start with “I could care less.”
Saying this phrase to say you don’t care could make you look less smart for a couple of reasons.
One, it’s incorrect – the correct phrase is “I couldn’t care less.” Which means you don’t care.
“I could care less” actually sends the opposite message – that you do care!
See how that can be misinterpreted so easily? That’s not effective communication at all.
And one more thing…using the wrong expression makes you look uninformed or careless about language, and that’s never a good look.
I have to admit something – when I hear someone say this word, my impression of them immediately goes down a few notches.
I know I shouldn’t do that, but I can’t help it. When someone uses “irregardless” instead of “regardless,” it tells me they aren’t as detail-oriented or well-educated as they want to put forth.
Because “irregardless” is not a word. I mean, it now is, but probably only because the linguists have resigned themselves to the fact that it’s here to stay.
Still, it doesn’t have a good reputation and certainly won’t give you the polished look you want. Like it or not, people judge our intelligence and education based on the words we use.
So let’s not incur the wrath of the language gods with this word and ban it from our vocabulary!
Ah, supposably. If you want to anger the linguists and grammar Nazis, by all means, include this in your vocab.
But if you want to sound smart, you’ve got to stop saying it. It’s just wrong.
And as a person who loves words, let me tell you – it really makes me (and probably your high school English teacher, too) sad, angry, and frustrated all at once!
The right word is “supposedly.”
As long as you remember that, you’ll be perfectly fine using it in sentences!
I probably will irk a lot of people with this one because it’s so widespread, but I’ll take that chance.
“Ain’t” is considered informal and non-standard (which means it AIN’T a real word). It has no place in formal settings or professional communication.
It makes people think you aren’t classy and well-educated, and that’s going to put a wrench in your plans to sound smart.
So watch out for those times you feel compelled to say ‘ain’t’, and replace it with the right words, such as ‘am/is/are/have/has not.’ This simple switch should do the trick!
14) “For all intensive purposes”
You know how sometimes we listen to song lyrics and repeat what we think we hear, then they turn out to be something completely different? And suddenly we go, ohhh, now it makes sense!
If you’ve been using “For all intensive purposes…” that’s likely what’s happened. You’ve probably heard this phrase all your life and thought it was a clever addition that makes people sound smart.
The problem is, that also shows you don’t know what it means at all.
Here’s the bad news: it’s not “intensive.” It’s “For all intents and purposes.” That means it’s for all our needs.
But hey, it’s never too late to start using it. You can now use the right phrase for all intents and purposes (pun intended)!
15) “Should/Shouldn’t of”
Still on the topic of misheard phrases, let’s talk about “should/shouldn’t of.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve encountered this phrase, and it never gets easier. I always feel this compulsion to correct people (but thankfully, I’ve been able to stop myself because that’s just obnoxious).
So let me take this chance to say this – it’s “should/shouldn’t HAVE.” And let me add, the same goes for “could/would,” too.
There, easy, right? Once, you start using this instead, you’ll come across as someone who knows their grammar!
The world of words can be a confusing place, but it really pays to know which ones to use and which ones to put in the bin. They can really make an impact in people’s impression of you.
Hopefully, this list has shown you why these phrases can make you sound less intelligent. By being more aware of the words you use and checking if they improve your message, you can be well on your way to becoming a more effective and eloquent communicator.
Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged by any setbacks. As you work on refining your vocabulary and phrasing, you’ll find your confidence and credibility growing, and your conversations will become more engaging and meaningful.