16 words you should stop using if you want to sound intelligent

Intelligent people tend to choose their words carefully. 

They want to convey their message in the best possible way and ensure their meaning isn’t misconstrued.  

Bright people have an advanced vocabulary and understand the subtle differences in word meaning that escape many.  

Although speaking well doesn’t necessarily make someone intelligent, it certainly gives the impression of someone who is insightful and astute. 

But beware, there are certain words that don’t support the image of a rational, thoughtful person.  

In fact, there are some words people use that can, rightly or wrongly, make them come across as stupid.  

So, why not give yourself the best chance of making a favorable impression?  

Here are 16 words you should stop using if you want to sound intelligent. 

1) “Cool”

A common slang word, and one of many. 

“That car is really cool.” 

“She’s such a cool girl.” 

This sort of informal language isn’t appropriate for all environments. Nor does it make literal sense in the context above.  

Unless of course both the car and the girl are unfriendly and have a low temperature… 

Using words in their proper context points to verbal sophistication.  

So, avoid using ‘çool’ in this way at all costs if you wish to appear intelligent.  

2) “Am”

Just to be clear: ‘am’ is the present tense first-person singular of ‘be’.  

However, it is often spoken out of this context, mid-sentence and as a means of connecting other words.  

It is what’s referred to as a filler word and usually indicates that the speaker hasn’t formed their thoughts properly or doesn’t know what to say.  

Unless you are saying, “I am” avoid using ‘am’ if you want to sound like you’re speaking with purpose and confidence.  

And now for another common filler word… 

3) “Like”

“I was, like, really annoyed.” 

Used in this context, ‘like’ is another word that screams, “I don’t have the verbal skills to get my point across adequately.”

This word adds no new information or meaning to a sentence.  

And since intelligent people don’t generally speak like stereotypical middle-class teenagers, it’s best to avoid it. 

And speaking of the stereotypical teen often depicted in movies and TV series, onto the next word to avoid if you wish to project intelligence…  

4) “Whatever”

Does anything communicate a dismissive and lazy attitude more than the word ‘whatever‘?  

It comes across as dismissive, juvenile, and rude.  

Not a word choice for someone who is bright and curious!  

5) “Hey”

While ‘hey’ and ‘hi’ are casual, non-offensive greetings, in certain situations they can make the speaker sound inept or even not bothered.  

The more formal ‘Hello’ is a better choice if you wish to be considered polite and competent.  

6) “Jesus”

As we’ve already said, intelligent people choose their words carefully. 

And they understand that effective communication is compromised by alienating your audience.   

Therefore, it’s never a good move to take the name of anyone’s God in vain.  

It’s not tactful and can potentially cause offense.  

7) “Just” / “Only”

“I’m just saying…” 

“I was only telling…” 

Used in these contexts, words like ‘just’ and ‘only’ diminish the meaning of what’s being said.  


Because they are totally unnecessary and add nothing of value. 

In fact, they diminish the authority of the speaker. 

Not something to go for if you wish to come across as clever and quick.  

8) “Yeah”

This informal adverb sounds juvenile and somewhat non-committal. 

To sound competent, it is best to use a simple “Yes” when answering in the affirmative. 

And onto another way of giving an affirmative answer, we come to the next word not to use if you wish to sound intelligent… 

9) “Sure”

phrases someone lacks maturity and perspective 16 words you should stop using if you want to sound intelligent

“Sure, I’ll take the dog for a walk.” 

This has often been described as the worst answer to a yes or no question. 

Stating ‘sure’ in this context (and not in the context of being confident of oneself) makes you sound like you’re not committing to something.  

Better to use, “certainly.”  

And onto a set of words that should be erased from your vocabulary if you wish to be taken seriously…  

10) “Sh*t” (or any curse word)

A great command of language and wide vocabulary is generally associated with mental brilliance.  

And the so-called intelligentsia are often lauded for their ability to wield language with wonderful eloquence.  

Therefore, resorting to the use of profanity to get your point across will not recommend you as an intelligent person.  

Not when there are so many better ways of describing something. 

No, if you want to be seen as intelligent, stop the bad language.  

11) “Obviously”

The first of the ‘-ly’ words to avoid using in conversation if you wish to sound more intelligent.  

“That’s the truth, obviously.” 

Really? After all, if something is obvious it shouldn’t need to be stated.  

Nor is the world black and white, everybody has their own perspectives and experiences. 

So, using ‘obviously’ is patronizing and dismissive of other’s viewpoints.  

12) “Basically”

Unless you’re speaking with a small child (and even if you were they may not appreciate it), ‘basically’ is a word best avoided if you wish to connect with others.  

It suggests you feel the need to explain something in minutiae and implies that you don’t hold your conversation partner’s mental prowess in the best regard. 

Also, few things are basic; most issues and situations are nuanced and complex – and intelligent people understand this. 

Therefore, this isn’t a word they would choose, and neither should you. 

13) “Seriously”

If you are serious, why would you have to state it? 

Surely it goes without saying! 

Using ‘seriously’ can suggest the opposite of its intended meaning and make the person using it look less confident and competent.  

Consider these two options: 

“Seriously, I will handle the regional sales team.” 


“I will handle the regional sales team.” 

Which inspires more confidence? 


14) “Honestly”

Same as above… 

If you were being honest, why would you say that you are being honest? 

Are you implying that you’re usually lying? 

Or lying now, but trying to convince others you’re not by telling them you’re being honest? 

See the complications saying ‘honestly’ can create? 

Imagine how hearing this from your partner would make you feel:

“I love you, honestly.” 

My heart just sank!  

We’ve said before that intelligent people choose words that best convey their meaning as clearly as possible. 

‘Honestly’ is not a word that intelligent people opt for.  

15) “Actually”

Sometimes your grammar checker is correct… 

‘Actually’ is usually unnecessary and can take from your credibility whether spoken or written.  

It can also come across as condescending as it implies that the person you’re speaking to is misinformed.  

16) “Literally”

The last ‘-ly’ to avoid if you wish to sound intelligent… 

“Literally’ is sometimes used for emphasis, however it is often used incorrectly and can make the speaker appear dim to say the least!  

“My mother literally killed me for doing that.” 

No, she didn’t. (Not unless we’re having this conversation in the afterlife!) 

A no-no if you’re in pursuit of verbal sophistication.  

Final thoughts  

Your choice of words can say a lot about you.   

And the precise and eloquent use of language points to an individual’s intelligence in a way few other aspects of their person can. 

So, when you’re trying to sound more astute, be sure to use words in the context of their true meanings and avoid any you’re not certain of. 

Not only will it make you a more effective communicator, but it will also make you sound more intelligent.    

It’s a win, win! 

Picture of Niamh McNamara

Niamh McNamara

A freelance writer fascinated with human nature and social dynamics, Niamh read literature, history, and philosophy at university before spending time in journalism and PR. Armed with a passion for words and ideas, and a healthy appreciation of the ridiculous, she tries to make sense of it all. Connect with Niamh on X @NBMcnamara123

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