English Corner(March)

Lisa Li, master’s student from the Department of English │ ISSUE77 March2018 MyUM

Filler Words: Benefits and Drawbacks

They are everybody’s favourite phrases; you must have said them before, consciously or unconsciously. They are known as filler words. Filler words help you fill the ‘empty’ spaces in conversations. When you say something like ‘well’, ‘you know’, ‘tell me something’, you may not be saying anything important, but you’re using the time to organise your thoughts. Many linguists consider the use of filler words to be a sign of insufficient vocabulary; in fact, they also perform an important psychological function: by buying more time for our thoughts, we can have better control over what we’re about to say. Of course, excessive use of filler words makes your listener f eel a bit uncomfortable, destroys the rhythm of your speech, or even causes you to lose your thoughts. So use them wisely. You can find a partner or record your own speech to observe your habit of using filler words.


Let’s look at some filler words in English:

  1. Well – Probably the most commonly used filler word, usually used at the beginning of a sentence to gather one’s thoughts.
  2. Wow! – An interjection that is sometimes used when you can’t find other words. Notice the tone of the speaker: it can reveal a variety of emotions, such as surprise, excitement or even sarcasm.
  3. Okay – To express agreement. It is frequently used in both speaking and writing (some may write it as ‘ok’).
  4. No way! – Used when you hear surprising news, meaning ‘I can’t believe it’. Depending on the context, ‘No way!’ can also mean ‘I don’t allow.’
  5. You see – Virtually meaningless, but it sometimes works like ‘look’, ‘listen’. It shows that you want to get your listener’s attention.
  6. Tell me something – Usually followed by a question, for example: Dan, tell me something, how much do you make?
  7. By the way – To introduce a minor topic.
  8. Exactly – To express agreement like ‘yeah’, ‘you’re right’.
  9. You know – Virtually meaningless.
  10. Certainly – like ‘yes’, but it has three syllables so it can buy you a bit more time.


Contributions to this column are from the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Humanities