20+ English Filler Words

“English is like, totally fun to learn, you know?”

Take out the words “like,” “totally” and “you know,” and you’re left with a perfectly understandable sentence: English is fun to learn.

The words we removed are called filler words. These are words (and phrases) that are used to fill silence when you’re speaking, often to give you time to think.

Filler words don’t really add any meaning to the sentence. For example, when you can’t think of a word, you might say “umm.”

Native speakers use filler words often in casual English conversations. So here are 20+ English filler words to help you sound natural and more like a native speaker.

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1. Well

“Well” can be used in a few different ways. You can use it to show that you’re thinking”

Well, I guess $20 is a good price for a pair of jeans.”

You can also use it to put a pause in a sentence:

“The apples and cinnamon go together like, well, apples and cinnamon.”

You can even use the word to stall (delay):

Well… fine, you can borrow my car.”

2. Um / Er / Uh

“Um,” “er” and “uh” are mostly used for hesitation, such as when you don’t know the answer or don’t want to answer.

Um, er, I uh thought the project was due tomorrow, not today.”

You can use any of the words at any time—they don’t all have to go together.

Umm… I like the yellow dress better!”

3. Hmm

“Hmm” is a thoughtful sound, and it shows that you’re thinking or trying to decide something.

Hmm, I like the red bag but I think I’ll buy the black one instead.”

4. Like

“Like” is sometimes used to mean that something is not exact:

“My neighbor has like ten dogs.”

In the above example, the neighbor probably doesn’t have exactly ten dogs. Rather, the neighbor has a lot of dogs.

Usually, though, the word is used when you need a moment to figure out the next word to use.

“My friend was like, completely ready to like kick me out of the car if I didn’t stop using the word ‘like’.”

Keep in mind that the word “like” as a filler is seen as a negative thing. The word is often overused by young females, and can make you sound like you’re not sure what you’re talking about.

5. Actually

“Actually” is an adverb—a word that describes an action. Many English adverbs (though not all of them) have an “-ly” at the end of the word, which makes it easier to recognize them.

Some adverbs can be used as fillers to change the strength of a statement.

For example, the word “actually” is used to point out something you think is true, when others might not agree:

Actually, pugs are really cute!”

6. Basically

“Basically” is also an adverb. It is used when you’re summarizing something, like a movie you saw:

Basically, the last Batman movie was really exciting!”

7. Seriously

The adverb “seriously” is used to show how strongly you take the statement.

“Wow… That roller coaster was seriously scary!”

8. Literally

“Literally” is another adverb. It really means “something that is true,” but many times in conversation it’s used with a different meaning: to express strong feelings.

These strong feelings aren’t always literal, though. For example:

“That’s so funny! I’m literally dying of laughter right now!”

9. Totally

Our next adverb is “totally,” which means “completely.” It is used to show that you feel strongly about something or that something is important.

“You totally didn’t see me, even though I was right in front of you.”

10. Clearly

The adverb “clearly” means the same as “obviously.” As a filler word, it is used to state something that is very obviously true.

Clearly you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

11. You see

“You see” is used to share a fact that you assume the listener doesn’t know, like:

“I was going to try the app, but you see, I ran out of space on my phone.”

12. You know

“You know” is used to share something that you assume the listener already knows.

“We stayed at that hotel, you know, the one down the street from Times Square.”

It can also be used instead of an explanation, in cases where we feel the listener just understands what we mean.

“When the elevator went down, I got that weird feeling in my ears, you know?

13. I mean

“I mean” is used to clarify or emphasize how you feel about something:

I mean, he’s a great guy, I’m just not sure if he’s a good doctor.”

It’s also used to make corrections when you misspeak:

“The duck and the tiger were awesome but scary. I mean, the tiger was scary, not the duck.”

“The cave is two thousand—I mean—twenty thousand years old!”

14. You know what I mean?

“You know what I mean?” is used to make sure the listener is following what you’re saying.

“I really like that girl, you know what I mean?

15. At the end of the day

“At the end of the day” is a phrase that means “in the end” or “in conclusion.”

At the end of the day, we’re all just humans, and we all make mistakes.”

16. Believe me

“Believe me” is a way of asking your listener to trust what you’re saying.

Believe me, I didn’t want this tiny house, but it was the only one I could afford.”

It’s also used to emphasize what you’re about to say, as in:

Believe me, this is the cheapest, tiniest house ever!”

17. I guess / I suppose

“I guess” and “I suppose” are used to show that you’re hesitant, or not really sure about what you’re saying.

“I was going to eat dinner at home, but I guess I can go eat at a restaurant instead.”

“I guess” is used more often in speech, but “I suppose” can sound classier (a bit smarter).

18. Or something

“Or something” is a sentence ending that means you’re not being exact.

“The cake uses two sticks of butter and ten eggs, or something like that.”

19. Okay / So

“Okay” and “so” are usually used to start sentences, and can be a sign that a new topic is starting:

So what are you doing next weekend?”

They can also be used to introduce a summary:

Okay, so we’re going to need to buy supplies for our trip this weekend.”

20. Right / Mhm / Uh huh

“Right” and “uh huh” are affirmative responses—they both mean “yes.”

Right, so let’s prepare a list of all the things we’ll need.”

Mhm—I heard you.”

Uh huh, that’s exactly what he told me too.”

When Are Filler Words Used in English?

You only need to use filler words when you’re speaking out loud. Generally, you won’t use fillers when you’re writing. When you’re speaking out loud, though, you might need some extra time to figure out what to say. That’s when you can use filler words.

Sometimes people use certain filler words (“like,” “literally” or “believe me”) when they’re writing online in website comments, chats or social media. This is fine too, since conversations online are very similar to spoken conversations.

Filler words are used for a number of reasons:

  • To show that you’re thinking. Use filler words when you need to think about your answer or statement.

    For example: “I have basically… ten more years of college.”

  • To make a statement less harsh. When your friend has some broccoli stuck between his teeth, you could just tell him, “You have something in your teeth,” but that might make him embarrassed.

    It might be nicer to say something more like: “Well, you have, um, you have a little something in your teeth.”

  • To make your statement weaker or stronger. While filler words don’t add anything to sentences, they can be used to change the sentence tone—the attitude of the sentence. See how different these three statements sound:

    “I think pugs are cute” is just a regular statement.
    Actually, I think pugs are cute” shows contrast—that someone else doesn’t agree.
    At the end of the day, I think pugs are cute” is something you might say as a conclusion to a discussion about pugs and their ugly (or cute!) wrinkles.

  • To stall for time. To stall for time means to do something to try and gain more time. Filler words are an excellent way to stall when you don’t know how to answer a question, or when you don’t want to.

    For example, if your teacher asks you “Where’s your homework?” your response might sound a bit like this: “Uhh. Umm. Well, you see… My dog ate it.”

  • To include the listener in the conversation without ending your sentence. A conversation takes at least two people. Some filler words and phrases can include the other person in the conversation. It’s a bit like reaching out to them as you’re speaking to keep their attention.

    For example: “It was a really big bear, you know?”

    This sentence includes the listener without ending your speaking turn. Your listener might nod in agreement, allowing you to continue telling him about the bear you saw.

Use Filler Words in Moderation

Like with anything else, you can use filler words too much.

Overusing filler words (using too many, too often) can make it difficult to follow your sentences. They can also make you sound unprofessional—for example, don’t use a lot of filler words during job interviews or presentations.

But even native English speakers use fillers quite often. Learning to use them correctly will help you speak more fluently and confidently, and make you sound more like an advanced English learner.

To get a deeper sense of how to use filler words, you should watch English videos to see how native speakers use them. In general, videos made for English speakers are helpful in showing “real” speech. You also get to see and hear how filler words work in different sentences and different situations.

Movies and TV shows are great examples of videos you can watch. If you have any favorite English shows, watch them again and this time, really pay attention to how the characters talk. See how many filler words you can hear!

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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So, basically, do use filler words when you speak, but don’t use them too much!

 

Now you’re an expert on filler words, right? Well, some of these words and phrases can be hard to use correctly, since the meanings are so flexible.

Filler words can require a lot of subtlety, but master them and you will sound like a native speaker in literally no time.

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:

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If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.

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FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

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FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

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FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

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