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How to: Stop Saying “Like” and Immediately Sound Smarter

Like it or not, how you talk can lead people to make a lot of assumptions about who you are, where you're from, and how educated (or not so educated) you might be. One of the most pervasive bits of vernacular speech in recent years (though beginning in the 1970s with the classic "Valley speak") has been the use, and subsequent overuse, of the word "like" in both casual and professional conversations. While there are many grammatically appropriate ways to use "like" in a sentence, many young people, and a few older ones as well, use the word as filler in sentences, cluttering up their speech and making them sound unsure and possible even uneducated.

If you're a habitual "like" user, you're not alone. Even the President is known to use a few "likes" in his everyday speech. Yet helping to curb your habit and refining your speech patterns can be a big benefit when you're looking for work, giving presentations in your college classes, or even just out on a date. Read on to find some methods, tips, and tricks that can help you make short work of getting all those unnecessary "likes" out of your speech.

Learn how to use "like" correctly.

One way to stop using "like" in weird places throughout your speech is to take the time to learn where it should actually fall with regard to standard usage rules. If you're unsure, take a look at the entry for the word. There are several usages explained, the majority variations on using the word to compare things or express similarity and to express enjoyment or favor.

Pause when you would say "like."

Often, saying "like" is a way to fill in awkward pauses in speech or to buy yourself some time while you think of what to say, but sometimes not saying anything at all can be a better move. Each time you can feel yourself saying "like," pause instead and give yourself a minute to think. This also works to help you stop saying other pause words like "um," "er," and "you know."

Ask others to help you.

It will undoubtedly get annoying to have your friends and coworkers constantly calling you out on saying "like" but it can also be one of the most effective ways to remind yourself when you're doing it and to break a particularly persistent pattern. After a few days of consistent reminders, you're bound to become more conscious of your speech, which can be good for other reasons than just helping you get rid of "like."

Record yourself.

It's hard to understand how other people hear you, as often you don't realize that you have weird speech patterns or tics when you hear yourself in your own head. A solution can be to record yourself in everyday conversation. This will make it easier to see how and when you use "like" and get some help in identifying times when it really isn't working for you, as well as some ideas on how to stop making it a part of your everyday speech.

Replace "like" with another word.

If you simply can't seem to break your bad habit of "like" overuse, then it may be time to go cold turkey and stop using it altogether. Replace the word with any other word that means about the same thing. Listeners will get your point and you'll avoid backtracking in your progress.

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Know the most common ways "like" is misused.

There are a couple of pretty common ways that you'll hear "like" being thrown around in everyday speech, and knowing what these are can help you be more conscious of times when you might be at risk of using the word yourself. Watch out for using "like" to:


  • Make approximations.

    When approximating a value, it's pretty common to throw in "like" even though it's not necessary at all. For example, "You need, like, twenty dollars to buy that." Saying you need "about," "roughly," or any other word would be more precise and descriptive.

  • Modify adjectives and adverbs.

    You don't want to say, "It was, like, the biggest cockroach I've ever seen!" You don't need that "like" in there to make the sentence clear and it also strengthens the sentence to omit the word.

  • Before a quote.

    We've all heard others or been guilty of using "like" before a quote, but using a more descriptive word like "said," "yelled," or "asked" is a much better choice and gives life to your recollections. Compare "She was like ‘Mind your own business!'" to "She snarled, ‘Mind your own business!'" One is far more descriptive than the other.

Learn new words.

Can't think of any words to replace "like" with? Start learning them, then! Break out a thesaurus and look up words that are similar to "like." You may even want to make a list, paying special attention to words that will allow you to be even more specific or descriptive in your speech.

Challenge yourself.

One way to motivate yourself to get rid of those "likes" is to give yourself a challenge or goal to meet. See how long you can go without saying the word, track your progress each day, or make a game out of kicking the habit to the curb. It might sound silly, but it can be a bigger motivator than you realize.

Think before you speak.

Perhaps the most tried and true way to sound more intelligent and polished when you speak, "like" aside, is to slow down and speak more slowly and deliberately. This means taking time to think before you speak and developing a pace that doesn't force you to use filler words to help your brain catch up to your mouth. Consider joining a local Toastmasters group or taking some public speaking classes to help you on this issue.