Words matter. The substance of what you’re saying is easily undercut by weak words and phrases that make you seem timid and unsure of yourself. Even if you walk into your medical school interview with perfect posture, poise, and confidence, using phrases that make you sound weak will leave a bad impression.
Ask yourself: would you be comfortable taking advice from a doctor who didn’t seem confident in what they were saying? Medical school interviewers and admissions committees are looking for future doctors, so wishy-washy answers that lack confidence are an automatic red flag.
Don’t let common, everyday colloquialisms undermine your chances of acceptance or how you come across to people in a professional setting. Eliminating weak words and phrases from your vocabulary will help you appear more assertive and ready to face the many challenges that come with attending medical school—scholastic and otherwise.
Read on to learn about the weak and ineffectual words and phrases you should cut from your vocabulary immediately.
Words and Phrases That Make You Sound Weak
The word ‘just’ catches a lot of flack—and for good reason. Using the word ‘just’ to introduce or follow up a question or statement negates its importance. Phrases like “I just wanted to ask,” “well, just in case,” or, “I’m just saying,” suggest that your request or opinion doesn’t need to be taken seriously.
Luckily, this is a relatively easy word to curb from your vocabulary during online correspondence. When you’re proofreading, whether it’s an email or document, use “command + F” (or “ctrl + F”) to search for the word ‘just.’ If you find it, delete it. Your sentences will immediately become more assertive, as you’re not wasting space qualifying or justifying your opinion or request.
If you need to ask a question, ask it. If you have a request, make it. Remember, being assertive isn’t being aggressive; be polite, but direct. Your hemming and hawing makes you come across as weak, and it wastes the other person’s time too.
2. “Needless to say…”
If it’s ‘needless to say,’ then why say it? Enough said.
Literally is a word that’s frequently used incorrectly. People say I could literally eat a horse when they mean they could figuratively eat a horse. No human can actually sit down and eat an entire horse in one sitting—and even if you could, you really shouldn’t. When you confuse words like ‘figuratively’ and ‘literally,’ it makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
But even when people do use the word ‘literally’ correctly, they use it far too much. “I literally ate 10 pieces of pizza last night.” Why use the word literally? Did you or did you not eat ten pieces of pizza?
If you did, then you can simply say, “I ate ten pieces of pizza last night.” By adding the word ‘literally,’ you are automatically assuming that the people you’re speaking to will doubt what you say. And if even you doubt that people will take you seriously, how are people going to take you seriously?
Do not automatically justify what you are saying. This is a clear sign that you lack confidence. While you may think the word ‘literally’ is a harmless colloquialism, it invites your audience to doubt your authenticity. It’s also too casual a word for important conversations and documents, such as your medical school application, recommendation letter requests, thank you emails, interviews, and other professional interactions.
“Sorry!” Did you actually do something to warrant an apology? Then why are you saying sorry? Overusing the word sorry makes it lose its meaning. If you do something wrong or impolite, it is, of course, important to apologize, but apologizing for inconveniencing someone before you’ve even inconvenienced them is a waste of your time as well as the other person’s.
If you open an email saying, “sorry to bother you,” you’re setting the other person up to be bothered. Wouldn’t it be simpler for both of you if you said what you wanted to say? Why assume the other person’s feelings before you’ve even expressed yourself or asked your question? If you suggest someone is going to be bothered before they’ve even heard your request, they are that much more likely to actually be bothered.
Being polite is an absolute necessity when participating in medical school interviews and in other professional settings (it’s also a good rule of thumb for life in general), but you can be polite without apologizing for breathing. Apologizing unnecessarily not only makes you seem meek and overly sensitive, but it’s also confusing to the other person involved.
It forces them to rethink their interaction with you and search for a reason why you could be apologizing, which taxes their mental and social energy. It also makes it seem as though you are someone who is easily offended, which means people could avoid interacting with you for fear of offending you.
Instead of saying sorry, say thank you. If you see someone is holding the door for you and you’re still a few steps away, don’t say sorry for keeping them waiting—thank them for holding the door. Expressing gratitude isn’t a show of weakness; it makes the other person feel good, which is a lot better than irritating them with an onslaught of “sorries.”
5. “In my opinion…” or “I think…”
Why are you clarifying that what you’re about to say is your opinion? If you’re saying it, it’s what you think, and it’s your opinion.
Opening a statement this way makes the statement appear solitary, fragile, and not based on facts. It’s inviting people to wonder why they should be considering what you have to say. Don’t give them that option. Express yourself. If you absolutely need to preface your thought, say, “I believe.” A belief is stronger than a thought or opinion—a belief has conviction behind it.
6. Filler words: “um” “uh” “like”
We all use filler words like “um” and “uh” to fill the silence while we’re trying to think of what to say next.
It could be that we fear someone will cut in if we allow a single silent moment to pass, or maybe we’re just so used to using words like “like” that we can’t go one or two sentences without it.
These are small and simple words, and when they’re overused, they will be noticed by others. Using them a few times in the same statement makes you seem unsure of yourself and immature. If you continue to use them, your audience will become distracted, focusing only on like each and every time these words come up because uh, like, you aren’t sure of, like, what you’re saying. You get the idea.
It’s okay to pause when you are speaking. We often naturally speak faster than we need to, so taking a short pause can give the other person a chance to catch up with us. It also provides a natural break in the conversation for other people to speak, which can make you a more desirable person to speak with.
7. “Kind of thing…”
“Kind of thing” doesn’t mean anything, so why do people say it? It’s a random phrase that too many people attach to the end of their sentences.
For example, say you’ve invited some friends over for dinner. Someone asks you what kind of fish you’re serving, and you respond, “it’s a salmon that I picked up at the market… kind of thing.” How are your guests supposed to take that? Are you serving salmon? Are you serving a fish that closely resembles salmon? No, you’re serving salmon, so that’s all you need to say.
Say you’re in a medical school interview, and the interviewer asks you about the extracurriculars you were a part of in college. You reply, “I played rugby… kind of thing.” So did you play rugby, or did you play something similar to rugby, like football or soccer? Do you mean that you didn’t play much rugby and actually spent most of the time on the sidelines washing uniforms?
Filler sentences like this look pretty strange typed out, and you would likely never think to include them in an essay, but they occur quite often when we speak. Pay attention when other people use filler phrases that don’t have meaning or don’t add anything to what they are trying to convey. The more you notice filler phrases in other people’s language, the better you will be at spotting them in your own vocabulary.
8. “Does that make sense?” or “…know what I mean?” or “I dunno”
These are filler phrases tagged onto the end of sentences that cast doubt on everything you’ve just said. If you finish what you have to say and add, “if you know what I mean,” it suggests that your thought or statement cannot stand up on its own, and you need support from the people around you. If you don’t believe your thought is worthwhile in itself, no one else will either.
Likewise, adding “I dunno” to the end of your statement throws that statement out the window. You are telling the person you’re speaking to that you don’t know what you’re saying. While getting lost in a conversation or personal monologue is quite common, it still makes you appear weak, and that’s not a quality you want to demonstrate in a professional setting.
Eliminate these phrases from your vocabulary. Not only are they annoying, but they make you seem like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Be clear and succinct. If you finish what you’re saying, stop speaking.
Tagging on a half-statement, half-question like “know what I mean?” may seem like you’re inviting the other person to share their opinion, but you’re only diminishing the merit of your own thoughts and opinions. If you’d like to invite the other person or people to comment, you can say, “What do you think about that?” This invites the other person to offer their opinion without completely negating everything you had to say.
What to Read Next
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Now that you know how to improve your vocabulary, read our guide on How to Improve Your Interview Body Language.