Hesitation Fillers

You must have often heard about how important it is to be able to formulate your thoughts clearly and coherently when speaking in English, isn’t that right?

 It’s nearly as important, though, to know what to say when you have a pause in the middle of a sentence.

You might not be as fluent as a native English speaker, but if you know how to use such hesitation filler words as‘well’, ‘you know’, ‘you see’ and others, you are so much less likely to experience awkward moments of silence which would most likely send a signal to your conversation partner that you’re stuck in the middle of a sentence and that you don’t know what to say.

So if you know how to use these simple gap filler words and phrases properly, you can save yourself loads of frustration.

Imagine that you’re having a formal conversation (yes, you can certainly use these hesitation fillers in a more formal setting as well!) with a customer at the information desk in a shopping center you’re working at, and the customer asks you: “Can you tell me, please, if there are any shops in this mall selling sports memorabilia?”  You’re starting your reply with“Yes, you can get all sorts of sports memorabilia in …” and then you suddenly forget the name of the shop. You know the way it happens sometimes – you just can’t remember the simplest things, so you’re trying to bring back the shop’s name while the customer waits.

You have to admit that if you don’t say anything to fill the silence while you’re trying to remember the name of the shop, it would turn into an awkward situation. The customer would be staring at you expectantly and you’d be frowning back at him and he wouldn’t have a clue whether you trying to remember something or you’re experiencing a sudden toothache… Your response could be the following –“Yes, you can get all sorts of sports memorabilia in … what do you call it… Hold on… I have it right there… Yes! It’s called ‘Collector’s Paradise’ and it’s located on the second floor down at the very back of the mall!” This way you can buy more time while you’re trying to remember the name of the shop, and most importantly – you’re avoiding the awkward silence!

Another benefit of using such hesitation filling words and phrases is in binding the words together in a sentence. Even if you’re not trying to buy more time to remember something specific, you’ll still find yourself pausing between sentences as you speak, and you’ll also sometimes need to choose the best way to put a certain thing to your conversation partner. Even a simple sentence“I don’t know” will sound so much more better if you begin it with “Well… I don’t know!” or else you run a risk of making sounds like “errr…” or “ahh….” or even use sounds or short exclamation words in your own language which probably wouldn’t go down well in a more formal setting, say, a job interview.

We have actually heard some foreign English speakers use their native language while they’re trying to think of how to say a certain thing in English. It’s definitely worth making it your habit to use ‘well’ and ‘like’; even if you use them excessively, it will still sound ten times better than saying something that your conversation partner doesn’t understand at all!

The most commonly used Hesitation Fillers:


probably the most popular English word used to buy time while considering the question you’ve just been asked. So if you have a habit of making a simple ‘eh…’ or ‘ah…’ sound to fill gaps in your speech, I’d definitely suggest starting using ‘well…’

“You’re half an hour late today, did anything happen?”
“Well…(thinking on whether to reveal the whole truth) I was out last night and simply forgot to set the alarm clock!”

You see…

this filler phrase comes in handy when you’re explaining something to the person you’re having a conversation with and you’re hesitating a bit while thinking on how to explain the whole thing in detail.

“Peter, how come you still haven’t created a new Project timetable?
“You see… (thinking about the arguments to present in order to explain the issue) Actually it’s quite an long process and that is what’s been holding back my plans of creating the timetable!”

All right…

normally you’d use this phrase as an affirmative reply. But it can also be used as a hesitation filler while you’re coming up with the best way to put it into words.

“Jessie said she wouldn’t attend the meeting today, so I’m not sure if there’s any point in having one today.”
“Jessie’s not attending? All right… all right…(accepting the fact and considering the consequences) I guess we have to call the meeting off indeed!”

You know…

this very common English short phrase “you know” isn’t really used to fill awkward pauses; it’s normally added onto the end of a sentence to make the conversation more casual – “Drinking has always been Jim’s way of dealing with problems, you know?”

But it can be used as a hesitation filler just as successfully:
“Is this all you could accomplish with the new machine?”
“Well… You know…(overcoming the need to be defensive and thinking on how to explain the situation) I haven’t received formal training on this machine so I had to figure it all out myself!”

* You can follow up all these hesitation fillers with sounds like“ahhm…”, “ahh…”, “ehh…”

and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In real life you’ll be pronouncing the last letter of the hesitation filler very long –“welllllllllllll….” and right after that – if the pause hasn’t ended yet – you may add the “ahh…” or “ehrr…” sound if appropriate. It will, in fact, come naturally to you and you’d have to work pretty hard NOT TO use such sounds while hesitating!

Well, umm, alright, BYE!