Filler Words

There are two types of filler words. There are filler words used in speech, often called hesitation words, and there are filler words used in writing. By cutting both from your WIP, you’ll create stronger sentences, narrative, and dialogue.

Hesitation Filler Words

Hesitation words are meaningless words, sounds, or phrases that mark hesitation or pause in speech. We use them frequently, often trying to think of what next to say or what word is appropriate. Removing them from your WIP will create stronger dialogue and characters.

There are some cases when hesitation words are appropriate, but they are few and far between. Only when you need to show pauses, stumbles, or hesitation of thought, and can’t do it through dialogue tags, should you consider leaving them in your writing. However, you should avoid letting a character use them frequently. Limit their usage if you have to include them.

hesitation words: ah, er, hey, hm, like, okay, right, uh, uh huh, um, well, you know

Filler Words in Writing

Filler words are common words that creep up in writing and during conversation, and they are natural to speech but aren’t concise. They add little meaning to what you are saying, and most of the time you can remove them without changing the sentence.

When you remove filler words, you make your writing stronger. Words like that can be deleted without changing the sentence meaning in some instances.

He swore that he would never leave.

He swore he would never leave

Other words, like just, only, and really, when removed will make your sentences stronger and more assertive.

I just love oreo cheesecake.

I love oreo cheesecake.

Other filler words add reason for doubt or makes the sentence weaker. These are words like seemed, slightly, and almost. Make the readers feel the absolute and don’t give them room for doubt.

She seemed panicked.

Is she really panicking? What if she looked panicked but wasn’t?

She panicked.

Now the reader knows that the woman is panicking. We can’t doubt it.

Modifiers like perhaps, maybe, simply, and somehow, make your sentences less clear and assertive.

The moon’s reflection simply quivered as the penny somehow spread waves across the pond.

The moon’s reflection quivered as the penny spread waves across the pond.

The list of filler words is long, but by removing them from your writing, you’ll strengthen your writing and be more precise. Simply avoid kind of weak writing. Avoid weak writing.

filler words: absolutely, actually, almost, basically, clearly, even, exactly, fairly, felt/felt, highly, hopefully, just, literally, maybe, now, okay, only, perhaps, quite, rather , really, reasonably, relatively, right, seems/ed/ing, seriously, simply, slightly, so, somehow, still, sudden(ly), that, then, though, totally, very well

When Can I Use Filler Words?

Filler words exist for a purpose, but we often overuse them. They can add context or tone to the sentence, which in some cases is helpful.

Filler Words Add Context

Filler words have definitions and meanings. Each one is listed in a dictionary. They aren’t pointless. When the filler word adds context to the sentence, passage, or story, then it should be included. You will need to analyze the word’s purpose to determine if it is beneficial or extra weight.

For example, now is considered a filler word because you can leave it out and imply the same meaning. Most of the time. Sometimes the word now is used to dictate an order of things. In those cases, it isn’t a filler word. For example:

“Mom glared at me as she wiped her hands with the hand towel. “Now do the dishes.”

I dragged my feet to the kitchen and began the nightly ritual.

In this passage, what are you trying to say? Is the mom ordering the dishes to be done? Or is she saying her kid can do the dishes now that she finished something in the kitchen? Context matters. If deleting now doesn’t change the context or what you meant to say, delete it. If the passage before said, “Let me finish filling the water pitcher,” before the order to do the dishes, now wouldn’t be a filler word anymore.

Additionally when referencing the present and the past, now becomes more important to show your timeline.

My sister and I fought often about the dishes. We both hated them and would trick each other with unpaid bribes and broken promises to escape the nightly ritual. Now I drag my feet to the kitchen and do them without complaint, wishing I could hear her voice one more time.

Here, now shows the story has moved into the present and is no longer talking about the past. it isn’t a filler word.

Filler phrases: a little/bit/lot, and then, at the end of the day, believe me, by the way, I guess, I mean, I suppose, in my humble opinion, for what it's worth, kind of, like I said, needless to say, okay so, or something, pretty much, sort of, you know?, you know what I mean?, you see

Filler Words Affect Tone

Filler words can change the tone of a sentence. Throughout the article, I’ve mentioned removing filler words will make a sentence stronger. Sometimes, you don’t want a sentence to be strong. Impactful. You need a different tone.

For example:

“I cried myself to sleep last night,” she said.
“I kind of cried myself to sleep last night,” she said.

In the first one, the sentence is blunt. It’s strong. Truthful. There isn’t any filler words. In the second one, kind of changes the tone of the sentence. She sounds more hesitant to admitting how she fell asleep. Maybe she’s embarrassed or regretful. The filler word changed the context.

With dialogue, you can argue that you can change the context with the dialogue tag. This comes down to the debate between said vs. other dialogue tags. You could say:

“I cried myself to sleep last night,” she said, looking at her feet.

Which is better? The dialogue tag or the filler word? It depends on the context and what’s around the story. But you can see the different strategies.

Filler Words Aren’t Always Filler Words

Most words have multiple definitions, including filler words. Not every purpose for a filler word makes it a filler word. For example, let’s look at a sentence I used earlier in the article.

Filler words are common words that creep up in writing and during conversation.

If you remove that, the sentence doesn’t make sense anymore. That is no longer a filler word and plays an active role in the sentence.

What Does This Mean?

It means you can’t do a full sweep of a filler word and delete all instances with one click. You have to look at each instance and decide if the word is fulling a purpose or it’s there because it snuck its way in. If you delete the filler word and the sentence changes, then it needs to be added back in or the sentence needs to be revised. If nothing changes, then leave it out. Your readers will thank you later.

Additional Editing Resources:

Editing Weak Verbs
Catching and Correcting Consistent Misspellings
Editing Homonyms and Spelling Errors

List of Common Filler Words

absolutely

actually

almost

basically

clearly

even

exactly

fairly

feel/felt

highly

hopefully

just

literally

maybe

now

okay

only

perhaps

quite

rather

really

reasonably

relatively

right

seems/seemed/seeming

seriously

simply

slightly

so

somehow

still

sudden(ly)

that

then

though

totally

very

well

List of Filler Phrases

a little/bit/lot

and then

at the end of the day

believe me

by the way

I guess

I mean

I suppose

in my humble opinion

for what it’s worth

kind of

like I said

needless to say

okay, so…

or something

pretty much

sort of

you know?

you know what I mean?

you see

List of Hesitation Words

ah

er

hey

hm

like

okay

right

uh

uh huh

um

well

you know

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