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Unclear Language


Techniques > Use of language > Modifying meaning > Unclear Language

Poor words | Poor speech | See also


There are many ways in which a person speaking can make it difficult for others to understand what they are saying, effectively modifying meaning in an undesirable way. Here are a few:

Poor words

Sometimes it's the words we are using that make


We often start speaking without having thought fully about what we are going to say. As a result, we get half-way through a sentence, realize that we should say it differently or meant to say something else and go back to the beginning.

The way we should do this...well, actually...The way you should do this is...

Not ending

When our minds are rushing ahead, sometimes we just do not finish sentences. This can be very frustrating and confusing for the listener.

I want to make sure we... Next week, anyway.

Bad structure

There are rules of syntax for putting sentences together. Sometimes people just do not follow them, again perhaps as their thoughts and their mouth trip over one another.

I, to see a friend, am going town.

Whilst it is true that normal speech does not have to be as correct as written language, beyond a certain point the meaning still becomes less clear.


Sheridan's Mrs Malaprop had poor grasp of language and would often use a word that sounded similar to the intended word. The result can be comical or confusing.

We are poor now, but one day we will be effluent.


We each have preferred words and phrases that we use as fillers and which we tend to repeat throughout our sentences. In the repetition, they easily lose all useful meaning.

As I said, you know, that's what should happen, you know.

Sometimes also when people do not know what to say they just repeat themselves, saying what they have said again. This can also happen when I am not sure if you have understood so just say it all again to make sure (rather than testing your understanding).


Poor speech


We often fill gaps where we do not know what to say with 'er', 'um', 'ah', etc. Whilst these noises can be useful to retain control in pauses they do not help with the overall understanding of what is being said.

I want, er, to say, ah, that, um, I am very, ah, happy to be, um, here tonight.


Hesitation often happens when we stop to think about what to say next. It can be powerful in the good use of pauses, but in other cases it just causes confusion.

I was...going to go.


When words run into one another then they become individually unclear and other 'ghost' words can appear at the interface.



When word are not enunciated clearly then the other person has to guess what is being said, making understanding harder work for them and possibly leading to misunderstanding and confusion.

Werr I gorra goda va twn tday.


See also

Floppy language, Malapropism


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