Why You Say ‘Um’ Before Certain Words

What’s that … um … word?

If you pay closer attention to those moments when an “um” an “uh” or an awkward pause inserts itself into your conversation, you may notice that the flub usually comes just before a noun, according to a new study.

When people are midsentence and a word is pronounced more slowly, or seems just beyond their grasp, that word is more likely to be a noun than a verb. This might happen because visualizing nouns before we say them temporarily slows our speech, while using a tion verbs require less time to “see” in our minds before they leave our mouth.

The complex interaction of various factors shapes the speed of a person’s speech, and these factors include the frequency and familiarity of the words used.

In fact, pauses preceding unfamiliar or complicated words reflect the comparative difficulty of planning those words.

It is experimentally found that pauses in any language — whether silent or “filled”— were 60 percent more likely to occur before nouns than before verbs. People are twice as likely to hem and haw before saying a noun than they were before uttering a verb, even if the verb was complex or unfamiliar.

In common speech, nouns are typically used only when they add information that is new or unexpected; otherwise they are frequently omitted or replaced with pronoun. Therefore, people need more “planning time” to say nouns than verbs.

Even though the languages demonstrated significant diversity in grammatical structure and cultural context, certain speech rhythms persistently followed strong universal patterns — and those patterns can be linked to the use of nouns or verbs.

-A project by my anonymous friend.

12 thoughts on “Why You Say ‘Um’ Before Certain Words

  1. Hey! It’s so good to see your words, Priya! Hope you’re doing well, my friend! 😊
    This was a very interesting read! So whenever I say “um” or “uh” I can just blame the nouns! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s good to hear, Priya! I’m doing pretty good, just been very busy prepping for holidays coming up. You’re very welcome, my dear friend! Hope you have a beautiful weekend! ☺️


  2. Welcome back, um… Priya. My mom had a stroke years ago. Afterward she used a lot of pauses in her speech. She said it was because she had to “see her words before she spoke them, and sometimes the words traveled across her mind’s screen faster than she could read them … and she would have to wait to give her mind time to do a rewind. Interesting parallel here, don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I didn’t know that! I never really take the time to study myself because when I end up using “um” is usually because I don’t feel to say what’s in my mind or just feeling embarrassed.

    Liked by 1 person

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