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20 Words and Phrases Smart People Don’t Use

If you're smart, or at least want to sound intelligent, remember that some things are better left unsaid.

01-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“You look tired!”

You may be trying to be sympathetic, but pointing out that someone looks tired is just another way of saying “Wow, you look like crap!” Nobody wants to hear it, and saying it just makes you sound insensitive (and even flat-out rude). The same goes for “Did you lose weight?” Even if it’s the truth, you’re basically pointing out to the person that you noticed how fat they used to be. Bad idea! In both cases, a sincere “How are you?” is better. Someone who’s legitimately tired can talk about the new baby or puppy that’s keeping them up all night, if they want to; someone who’s lost weight can say “I feel great since I lost 20 pounds!” Either way, you’re letting the person you’re speaking with direct the conversation, so you’re less likely to step on their toes.

02-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“I utilized my phone.”

Nope, you just used it. Spouting a 50-cent word when a 10-center will do doesn’t make you sound smarter. It makes you sound like you’re trying too hard. Stick to clear, simple terms and you’ll give the impression that you know what you’re talking about. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to improve your vocabulary—as long as you keep your speeches short and sweet. You can utilize these 11 tips that will improve your vocabulary in just one day.

03-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“I can’t.”

Especially in the workplace, this one’s an indicator that you lack either know-how, motivation, or both. “I’ll try” gives off the same vibe: Why limit yourself to trying, when you should be doing? So if you’re asked to do something unfamiliar or intimidating, don’t give up before you’ve even started. A smart person wouldn’t! She’d figure it out, even if she needed help to do so. There’s no shame in asking for assistance so you can get something done, and done right.

04-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“I gave her my best advise.”

You can advise someone, but you can’t give advise—only advice. Watch out for false friends like these, which can make you sound less smart than you really are. Some common trip-ups include adverse vs. averse (the first one usually means unfavorable, as in “adverse market conditions”; the second one means feeling opposed, such as “I am averse to giving anyone unsolicited advice”); continuously vs. continually (without ever stopping vs. repeatedly); and farther vs. further (the first one is about physical distance, while the second is about figurative distance). Our best advicetake a look at these 70 words and phrases you’ve been using all wrong.

05-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“Any other mommies feel this way?”

If you want to sound like a smart adult, don’t talk like a little kid! Save the baby talk for your actual baby. Referring to yourself or anyone else as “mommy,” “daddy,” or “honey bunny” should be reserved for family members, at home. And yes, that includes calling your pets “fur babies.” Love them and be proud of them, of course, but unless you’re at the dog park or pet store with fellow animal lovers, stick with grown-up words.

06-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“That’s not fair.”

Speaking of baby talk: Crying foul over something you feel is unfair can very easily make you sound immature or whiny, not smart. Standing up to real injustice is smart and admirable. But your tone matters. Try something like, “I think it would be more equitable if we did it this way.” And be sure to propose a solution, instead of just fussing and foot-stomping.

07-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“Whatever!”

Saying “whatever” or “I don’t care,” even in a pleasant tone, makes you sound less than smart because it implies that you don’t have any thoughts at all. Nothing intelligent about that! Even if you’re just trying to go with the flow, you can still contribute to the discussion. If you have an opinion, share it politely. If you truly aren’t sure about something, ask questions and seek more information until you can give a thoughtful, useful response.

08-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“We’ve always done it this way.”

Smart people are open to new ideas and suggestions. Sticking to a method or process just because it’s familiar makes you look more stubborn and close-minded than smart. Whether you’re at work, a volunteer organization, or your child’s school, it’s wise to be willing to listen when someone presents an opportunity for improvement. They just might be right! Smart people also don’t say the 10 most annoying phrases in the English language.

09-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“It’s not my fault!”

Just like saying “it’s not fair,” announcing you couldn’t possibly be wrong or at fault ends up making you sound defensive and immature. Similarly, claiming “that’s not my job” gives the impression that you’re not a team player. In the workplace, if there’s a problem, don’t back away and avoid blame. Even if the issue really isn’t your fault or your job, you’ll look much smarter if you pitch in and help.

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“It needs to be perfect.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting something to be the best it can be, of course. But there does come a point when it’s smarter to just acknowledge that nothing is perfect and that you have limitations. In fact, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that admitting that you’re not perfect, and that there are still things you need to learn, is actually a sign of intelligence. Rather than driving yourself crazy trying to attain perfection, there’s something to be said for knowing when to move on and focusing instead on trying to improve in the future.

10-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“I have a dumb question.”

To sound smart, don’t call yourself dumb right off the bat. There’s no shame in asking a question. Own it. The same goes for sharing a suggestion or idea. Don’t undermine yourself by starting with “This might sound silly” or “This is probably stupid, but…” Have confidence, or at least fake it! You’ll sound much wiser, no matter what your question or opinion might be. You’re also going to want to avoid using these 10 words during a job interview.

11-Words-and-Phrases-Smart-People-Never-UseNicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“He gifted me this necklace.”

Stick with “He gave me this necklace.” It means the same thing, without needlessly converting a noun into a verb. Another frequent offender in this vein is “impact.” Instead of “The storm impacted my commute,” it’s better (and smarter) to say “The storm affected my commute” or even “The storm had a big impact on my commute.”

Nicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“I couldn’t of asked for more.”

Yes, this is an understandable mistake. When people say “couldn’t have” or “shouldn’t have” quickly, “have” may sound like “of.” But “couldn’t of” is not a grammatically correct phrase. This is a particularly common blunder on social media; out loud, the correct and incorrect phrases sound similar, so the mistake is more apparent when the words are written out. All it’ll take is a little proofreading to catch this one. We all need a little time to finesse our vocab, especially with these words even smart people mispronounce.

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“You look great for your age.”

Or “for having just had a baby.” Or “for” anything, really. Sure, you mean well, but saying that someone looks great “for their age” implies that people of that age don’t usually look good. So your “compliment” really comes across as insulting and condescending. And you saying it implies that you’re not aware of that (or just don’t care), which doesn’t reflect well on your intelligence. Keep it short and sweet and stop at “you look great”!

Nicole Fornabaio/rd.com

“With all due respect…”

If using this phrase causes your listeners to immediately tune you out, we can’t say we blame them. It suggests that you’re about to say something less than respectful. If you feel like you need to preface something with “with all due respect,” you might want to reconsider saying it at all, especially in a work environment. At the very least, try to come up with a way to say it that doesn’t get the recipient bracing themselves for a veiled insult. Don’t miss these other things you should never, ever say to your boss.

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“I told you so.”

There’s a reason this phrase drives people crazy. We all like being right, sure. But saying “I told you so” just makes you sound superior and petty. Chances are, the person who made the mistake doesn’t need you to tell them that. Saying “I told you so” may even put them on the defensive, making matters worse. The phrase calls to mind a little kid taunting a sibling… not exactly the picture of sophisticated intelligence.

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“Like I said before…”

This is “I-told-you-so”‘s only slightly less obnoxious cousin. Sure, repeating yourself can be annoying, but you can’t realistically expect people to remember every single thing you say to them. Saying “like I said,” especially more than once, makes it seem like you’re personally offended by the fact that people aren’t hanging on to your every word. Instead, try phrasing whatever it is you said in a different way; make it clear that it’s the thing you’re saying that’s important, not you. Avoid these other annoying speaking habits you didn’t realize you had.

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“It’s up to you.”

If someone asks for your opinion, go ahead and provide it! Saying “it’s up to you” makes it seem like you’ve got no opinion, or that you just don’t care. Saying this, or something else like “it doesn’t matter” or “your call,” makes it seem like you can’t be bothered to even offer a suggestion. Chances are, that person probably won’t be seeking out your advice again. If you do truly think the person you’re talking to would be better off making the decision, especially in the case of a more serious matter, say something like, “I’m happy to help, but I feel like you would know better than me.” This may better boost their confidence about their ability to make a choice.

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“I’ll try and call her.”

You don’t try and do something; you try to do something. If you say you’re going to “try and” call someone, you’re technically saying that you’re going to try, and you’re going to call someone: Two different actions. If you want to sound smart, try to remember this grammar rule. (See what we did there?) Following these 41 grammar rules will also make you sound smart.

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“I’m so smart.”

Bragging about brains definitely won’t win you points with anyone. Instead, saying that you’re smart makes you sound like you’re trying to reassure yourself, or need the validation of others to feel like you’re smart. If you want to convince people that you’re intelligent, actions speak louder than words. Avoid these other 26 other words and phrases that make you sound unintelligent.

Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is a contributor to RD.com’s Advice and Culture sections, where she writes about parenting, relationships, and pets. You can also read her work online at Highlights, Parents, and Verywell, and listen to her daily podcast at parentingroundabout.com. Catherine earned her BA in English at the University of Pennsylvania.