Word Confusion: Uh versus Um

Posted November 23, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 20 July 2017

I actually got curious about this one when editing a client’s dialogue. He was using a lot of uhs and ums and I started getting confused. I hate that!

As I’ve mentioned before, I make use of these Author Tools as well. The entries are a combination of words that confuse me as well as those that I have found confuse others, and I don’t see much point in hoarding my research to myself, LOL!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Uh versus Um” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

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You may also want to take a peek at “Hmmm versus Mmmm” or “Huh, What’s That You Say?

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Uh Um
Credit to: Speechink; Dictionary.com; Herbert Clark
Other Countries Use…
[North American English] ah
[British] er
[Dutch] uh
[French] eu, euh, em, eh, œ, n, hein
[German] äh
[Hebrew] eh, e-h
[Japanese] eeto, etto, ano, anoo
[Norwegian] e, e=, e==, eh, eh=
[Spanish] eh, em
[Swedish] eh, äh, ääh
[British] erm (sometimes)
[Dutch] um
[French] eu, euh, em, eh, œ, n, hein
[German] ähm
[Hebrew] em, e-m, ah, a-m
[Japanese] uun, uunto, konoo, sonoo, jaa
[Norwegian] m, m=, m==, hm, mm, em=, øhø, aj
[Spanish] este, pues
[Swedish] m, mm, hmm, ööh, a, öh
The Clark-Tree study mentioned that regional differences exist in the spelling and/or use of fillers that may replace the uh and um. If any of y’all know of some, I’d love to add it to the list!
Rule: Both are used to indicate the speaker is “searching for a word, deciding what to say next, want to keep the floor, or want to cede the floor” (Clark, 76). Both words are considered performance additions, fillers.

A character using either word may be characterized as a slow speaker; using um more often than uh can be used to indicate a really slow speaker (Clark, 98). However, a “successful” character is unlikely to use either word. Using these fillers could be useful to indicate that the “successful” character is in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation…snicker.

Always separate from the rest of the sentence with commas when used as interruptions.

DO use hyphens between “uh-oh”s and “uh-huh”s.

Part of Grammar:
General Rule:
Initiates a brief delay in speech (Clark, 73 & 79) Initiates a longer delay in speech
Nonstandard spelling of the indefinite article a

Used to represent black English

Expresses hesitation, doubt, or a pause

Expresses surprise, bewilderment, disbelief, contempt, or interrogation

Alternative for huh

[Uh-oh] Indicating a mistake or surprise

Nonstandard spelling for of

Used to represent black English

Natural utterance

Expressing hesitation or a pause in speech
Got me some crabs in uh basket.

Uh, excuse me.

I was just, uh, passing by.

Uh-oh, I spilled my juice.

Uh-oh, I think I hear someone coming!

…a house full uh young’uns.

Anyway, um, I was just thinking that, um, we could…
Affirmative Negative
Rule: Ending the combination with “-huh” makes it a yes. Rule: Ending the combination with “-uh” turns it into a no.
Uh-huh Uh-uh



Uh-huh, I agree with you.

Uh-huh, yeah, uh-huh, oh, wait.

Uh-uh, I do not want catsup on my steak.


I don’t want to do that, huh-uh.

History of the Word:
First noticed between 1595 and 1605.

The combination was first used in the 1920s.

First recorded in English in the early 17th century.

The combination was first used in the 1920s.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

You Got the Right One Baby…Uh, Huh is part of an article, “Mind Bridges“, about Max Sutherland’s book, Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why, which was “written for advertisers, agencies and consumers” and is located at Sutherland Survey.com.