A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Phrases Women Need to Remove from Their Vocabulary

Updated: Jun. 07, 2023

How you present yourself isn't only about your clothes or behavior: It's what you say that conveys the real you. Avoiding these phrases will boost your presence and confidence.

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“If only I…”

Career and branding expert Wendi Weiner recommends against starting sentences with this coy approach since it carries a negative connotation: It assumes you are not strong or worthy enough right now. When you add “…had more experience” or “…had anticipated that outcome,” you belittle yourself before giving anyone the opportunity to form an impression of you or your actions. “Instead, change your phrasing to ‘I am,’ or ‘I will.’ Allow yourself to feel empowered, strong, and brave as well as confident in what you are saying,” she advises. Use these 9 magic phrases to smooth over awkward conversations.

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When you take a public speaking course, one of the first steps is to eliminate the “ums” and “likes.” Career coach and entrepreneur Jill Tipograph says these verbal crutches sound unsophisticated and unprofessional. Breaking the habit is no easy task—but practice will get you there. “Think instead of what you are trying to say in advance; formulate your thoughts and make a direct comparison, such as ‘This is similar to the time when,'” she says. P.S. Check out these lessons on public speaking from The King’s Speech.

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“I’ll try”

Jessica Tatham is the owner of DevelopHER Designs, a web development company that caters to female entrepreneurs and executives. She says one of the most common phrases that women tend to say is “I’ll try”—instead of “I’ve got this.” You’re conveying doubt in your own abilities. Instead, say “I’ll get started right away and be back to you ASAP”—which builds confidence. Try out these 9 science-backed tricks for boosting your confidence.

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Muslim girl student studying at the library.

“Does this make sense?”

It might seem innocent enough and a way to engage your audience. But Weiner points out it discredits your explanation and signals self-doubt. “This suggests uncertainty and lack of empowerment as well as a lack of conviction,” she explains. Instead, say “I trust you are following me” to put the power back in your hands.

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“I don’t know how…”

Even if you honestly don’t know how there’s a better way to ask for help than to immediately dismiss your ability, says Tipograph. By starting with this mentality, she says you inadvertently lower someone’s confidence and expectations. Here is where the “fake it until you make it” approach can work: “Most successful people and entrepreneurs are willing to take a risk to seize an opportunity, and think fast on their feet to get the resources they need to help them,” she adds. These are things confident people would never do so you shouldn’t either.

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“This might be a silly idea but…”

You might use this to insulate yourself from rejection—if everyone thinks it’s bad, then you’re on record agreeing with them. Tatham advises against this strategy because it sounds weak. Although it can vary from man to man, guys rarely add caveat undermining their ideas or opinions—they just say them. When you’re sharing your thoughts, don’t pull the rug out from under yourself. Don’t miss these words and phrases smart people never, ever use.

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“I’m sorry”

Try this trick tomorrow: count how many times you apologize in a day. Weiner says the vast amount of times most women say “I’m sorry” in a 24-hour period would surprise most. Generally speaking, women have a nurturing personality and that can sometimes make them come across as a pushover. “We use ‘sorry’ a bit too much to acknowledge wrong when there may not even be a transgression,” she says. “We need to stop utilizing sorry, and instead focus on what you intended to say. Apologizing for something when there is no need for it can undermine our credibility.”

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Using fillers like this can prevent you from sounding strong and articulate, warns Tipograph. She says it’s better to omit these words—especially ones like ‘So’ to start a sentence—since they’re not needed. A smart trick to master this? As they say in yoga, utilize your breath. “Pause before speaking, and organize your thoughts in your mind; you’ll learn to use fewer words,” she says.

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“I have to be honest”

Many times, women will say this before sharing their opinion. It might not seem like a big deal, says Weiner, but these five little words bring emotion into the equation; they make you seem as if you’re hesitant to say your mind—or that other statements you’ve made weren’t entirely honest. “If you begin using ‘I have to be honest’ and then suddenly stop, one may question whether your statements are fact or fiction. Remove it from your vocabulary altogether,” she explains. These are the phrases that make you seem trustworthy.

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“I hate my body”

If any woman actually heard herself say this, she’d be horrified (just think of how you feel when a friend utters these words). You’re inviting others to focus on and judge your body; if you say it to a daughter or younger co-worker, you’re perpetuating an unhealthy obsession with appearance. Don’t let a bad hair day or a few extra pounds let you indulge in self-loathing; mental health experts stress the importance of finding other positive qualities in yourself instead of focusing on the negatives.

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“I’m no expert”

The only time you need to utter this statement is when someone is asking you to perform an emergency tracheotomy and you don’t have medical training; in other words, no one needs to know whether you’re an expert, says Tatham. In most professional situations, everyone knows your expertise—that doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t valid or that you need to undermine it.

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“I’m too old [or young] for that”

Age is just a number, so don’t discount your experience or your vigor, says Tatham. Regardless of what kind of experience you possess, take each opportunity as a chance to show what you’re capable of—no age requirements or excuses are necessary. By the way, you’ll want to avoid these 10 words that make you sound old.

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“Like a girl”

Run? Talk? Throw? Consider this instead: You’re behaving exactly like who you are. Remember that a statement like this discounts all women, and that’s not fair to your sisters, female friends, and daughters. If the statement isn’t something you’d want your children to say, you shouldn’t utter it yourself. Now, check out the most annoying phrases in the English language.