A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Why You Shouldn’t Start a Sentence with Any of These 10 Phrases

Don't undermine your message, or your relationships, with these instant conversation-killers.

Angry man arguing with colleagues Phrase: To be honest ...
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“To be honest …”

Also watch out for: “To tell you the truth,” “Honestly,” and “Can I be honest?”

TBH is a red flag for your listeners because it makes them wonder: Are you just now starting to tell the truth? Was everything you previously stated a big old lie? “When we add a preface, or we feel we need to add something after we’ve made a statement, it could appear as not credible,” says Julie Blais Comeau, the chief etiquette officer at EtiquetteJulie.com. “Take ownership of what you’re saying. Just state it, instead of adding an introduction or an afterthought.” Check out the origin of these commonly used phrases.

Therapist looking at couple arguing during meeting Phrase: No offense ...
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“No offense …”

Also known as: “Not to be mean, but” or even “This comes from a place of love…”

The minute the person you’re talking to hears these words, he’s going to brace for an insult. “No offense” pretty much equals “here comes an offensive comment.” If you do need to deliver a criticism or some feedback that might be hard to hear: First, do it in private. Then, frame it with an “I” statement, says Jephtha Tausig, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “Try something like, ‘I’m concerned about this because … ‘ and then explain why,” she says. Another gentle approach: “Would you be open to some feedback?” Make sure you’re aware of these compliments that are actually pretty insulting.

Exasperated women listening to a meeting Phrase: Well, actually ...
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“Well, actually …”

Just say no to this sentence-opener, which turns you into a condescending over-explainer in only two words. Your listener hears: “I’m right and you’re wrong.” “It’s more productive to say something like, ‘From what I understand,’ or ‘From the information I have,'” says Dr. Tausig. “That leaves the door open for the other person to add to what you say, or even agree with you.” Also, avoid the most annoying phrases in the English language.

Woman looking over shoulder drinking wine at dinner table Phrase: This may sound stupid ...
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“This may sound stupid …”

Also avoid: “This may be a silly question” and “I may be wrong here, but…”

There’s no “may” about it: Once you’ve introduced a negative quality, like “stupid” or “wrong,” you can’t take it back. Your listeners are already assuming that yes, you’re not too bright. You also sound like you’re lacking confidence, especially if you use a phrase like this in a work setting. “Everyone else in the meeting will be trying to stop themselves from rolling their eyes,” says Comeau. Go ahead and ask your question or make your statement without an intro that undercuts you and what you’re about to say. These words and phrases used to be insults—but are now compliments.

Annoyed couple listening to a man Phrase: You should ...
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“You should …”

This phrase (and its siblings “If I were you …” and “have you tried…”) gives off a very condescending vibe. “You are saying that you know better,” says Dr. Tausig. “It makes it seem like the other person is not entitled to her own perspective or emotions, that hers are less legitimate than yours.” A better approach is to simply listen without commenting. If you do have some advice that you think might be helpful, ask if it’s OK to share it. If you get permission, start with a more understanding phrase, like “you’ve probably already explored this” or “everyone is different, but something surprising that worked for me was … ” Here are some words (and phrases) you’re probably using all wrong.

Boardroom of annoyed and upset looking people Phrase: I'm not racist but...
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“I’m not racist, but …”

That’s a really big but. “It negates your previous clause,” says Dr. Tausig, so what you’re really saying is, “Here comes a racist whopper.” That’s never a good way to start (or continue) a conversation. If you’re tempted to go this route, take a breath and think twice about what you’re about to say. Is it really going to add to a discussion in a positive way? And watch out for these other phrases smart people never say.

Bored businesswoman listening to colleague Phrase: I think ...
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“I think …”

Hold on! What’s wrong with sharing your opinion? Usually, nothing—but especially at work, starting off a sentence this way can make you sound weak. It’s very natural to begin a statement with “I think,” says Julie Comeau, but “it’s not very persuasive.” Since you don’t mean “I am not sure, but,” in this case, Comeau recommends a preface such as “I believe,” “I’m certain that,” or “Based on my experience” instead. These trendy slang words need to end.

Woman comforting annoyed daughter Phrase: I know just how you feel ...
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“I know just how you feel …”

This is one of the worst ways to start a sentence, especially if you are talking to someone who is grieving. You really don’t know how the person feels, says Dr. Tausig, even if you’ve also lost a parent or a spouse or a pet. It’s just insensitive. “An open-ended approach is usually better,” says Dr. Tausig. “You might say, ‘Would you like to talk?’ so that they can respond with as much or as little as they wish to say.” Provide support by checking in after a little time has passed, when others have come and gone. Offer a specific invitation: “I’d love to help you winterize your garden,” or “I’m going to a concert next Friday. Would you like to join me?” These are the phrases all women need to remove from their vocabulary.

Upset boardroom looking at speaker Phrase: As I previously stated ...
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“As I previously stated …”

Ouch. Hostile much? Use this one, and you sound like you’re passive-aggressively calling someone out for not listening. Either that or you are trying to lay claim to an idea or a thought—but again, in an unnecessarily aggressive way. You certainly deserve credit for your good suggestions. And you deserve to have a respectful audience that’s paying attention. But if you don’t, a frosty opening like this one probably won’t help. Even swapping “we” for “I” can help here. You need to stop using these surprisingly offensive words.

Couple arguing on couch Phrase: Just ...
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“Just …”

As in “Just so you know” or “You could just … ” or even “I just want to know … ” Just say no! “These phrases are really invalidating,” says Dr. Tausig. They communicate an attitude of “I’m about to drop a bomb that doesn’t take your feelings into account.” It’s less confrontational to use a phrase such as “I would like to know,” suggests Julie Comeau. Skip the “just”-ifying and get right to the point! Next, read about these words that you’re probably using all wrong.


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.