Every language has its vocalized pauses, which are meaningless words used to keep the conversation flowing smoothly. In English, it’s usually “um”, “er”, “ah”, or “you know.” In North America, especially among young people, it’s common to use the word “like” as a vocalized pause.
Everybody has done it at least once so you are not alone. The problem is that it can become a habit and you can use it often without realising it. The same applies to ‘um’
Know that using the word ‘like’ a lot makes you sound uncertain or unsure of yourself. When you take this out of your vocabulary, you start sounding more definitive and confident of your answers.
Ways of stopping the overuse of like:
- Pause when you would typically insert “like.” Vocalized pauses are just filling places where you should pause. So, each time you anticipate saying “like,” pause instead. This approach works for other vocalized pauses, such as: “um,” “er,” “ah,” and, “you know.” Pausing will also make you sound more authoritative.
- Record yourself to see how often you use the word “like” incorrectly. Once you can pinpoint your most common mistakes, it’ll be easier to catch yourself in action and make corrections. In any conversation or when speaking freely for a few minutes, you’ll probably notice a few patterns, which are addressed in the following steps.
- Stop using “like” when quoting someone. Whenever you catch yourself using “like” to put words in someone’s mouth, replace it with “said”. Better yet, come up with a verb that more specifically describes how the person spoke: yelled, whispered, answered, exclaimed, insisted, etc. Doing this helps the reader imagine what you’re describing, and your stories will be much more enjoyable to listen to.
- Incorrect: “He was like ‘Where are you going?’ and she was like ‘None of your business!'”
- Correct: “He asked ‘Where are you going?’ and she yelled ‘None of your business!”
- Don’t use “like” to approximate. When you’re giving a quantity that you’re not sure of, you might use the word “like” to indicate that you’re guessing or approximating. In this case, it can easily be replaced by the following words: about, approximately, or roughly.
- Incorrect: “She’s, like, five feet tall.”
- Correct: “She’s about five feet tall.”
- Incorrect: “You’ll need, like, three tablespoons of butter.”
- Correct: “You’ll need roughly three tablespoons of butter.”
- Stop using “like” before adjectives and adverbs. You might also find yourself plugging other fillers such as “so” or “really” in between.
- Incorrect: “He was, like, so tall.”
- Correct: “He was tall.”
- Incorrect: “She’s, like, really irritated.”
- Correct: “She’s irritated.”
- Improve your vocabulary. Your speech might feel “naked” without the word “like” to fill in gaps. The best remedy for this is to be more descriptive and accurate in the way you speak. Whenever a statement feels plain, try to think of ways you can be more specific.
- Bad: “He’s like 160 lbs.”
- Good: “He’s about 160 lbs.”
- Better: “He weighs 160 lbs and has a stocky build.”
- Bad: “She’s, like, really happy with her new job.”
- Good: “She’s happy with her new job.”
- Better: “She’s more satisfied with her new job.”
- Stop using the word “like” altogether. If you find that you’re still having a hard time using “like” correctly, you might want to abandon the word altogether, at least temporarily, just to break the habit. Even though there are ways to use “like” correctly, there are also ways to replace it. You can’t use the word incorrectly if you don’t use it at all!
- Similarity: Replace “like” with “similar to.”
- Enjoyment: Replace “like” with “enjoy” or “savor” or “love.”
See how long that you can go without saying the word “like” in an improper way.
Ask friends, family, and co-workers to let you know whenever you use the word “like” incorrectly. For more encouragement, have them make you put some money in a jar every time you say “like”.
- Attend a local Toastmasters meeting where someone will count the number of times you use “like” as well as “um” or “ah”, for you. (It’s free for guests).
- If you’re trying to learn how to sound like a native English speaker, doing the opposite of these instructions might help, but only in informal situations. Using “like” excessively in the workplace can make you seem unprofessional.
- This also applies to the word “actually“.
- Fillers (such as “like”) will often appear in one’s speaking when the pace is quick, as speaking gets ahead of the train of thought. Practice determining a pace that minimizes the occurrence of these fillers
- Don’t replace “like” with another filler such as “um”, “ah”, “actually”, “basically”, “ya’know”, or “and stuff”.
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