Once, a college teacher told me that, when learning languages, you have to create a character for yourself in the language you’re learning. Let’s say, an alter ego that preserves your identity while being submerged in a foreign culture. Part of speaking any language like a native, or like your foreign persona, requires that you know how to use filler words.
Conversation fillers are words, phrases, or sounds that we use to fill up space in our speech without adding substance. They function as a tool to fill the little pauses that occur when we are thinking about what to say next, or when we are actively listening to someone and want to demonstrate empathy. Conversation fillers also have a fixed form, which makes them fall under the category of formulaic language. A key part of our social interactions, we retrieve formulaic language from our memory in order to sound fluent.
We use filler words abundantly in natural speech, oftentimes without realizing it, and they vary from language to language. Ums and uhs sneak their way into English, and ems and estes decorate the gaps in many Spanish conversations. While some people believe they’re weak and hesitant, others defend them as authentic and genuine. Truth is, using filler words sparingly does no damage. However, if you use them excessively, they might affect your confidence and credibility. Stay with us to know how and when to use Spanish conversation fillers.
Spanish Conversation Fillers
Known in Spanish as muletillas, Spanish conversation fillers and sentence starter words help you to enhance the smoothness of your dialogues. Let’s take a look at the most used conversation fillers, so you can easily transition your sentences and avoid stumbling over your words.
A propósito / Por cierto
Definition: by the way.
This filler phrase indicates a transition into a new subject.
- A propósito, ¿sabes dónde está María? (By the way, do you know where Maria is?)
- Por cierto, ¿sacaste la basura? (By the way, did you take the trash out?)
Definition: let’s see / see.
Used as a fixed expression, it has different functions (to create expectation, to grab someone’s attention, to start a question). As a filler, we always place it at the beginning of sentences. In other positions – in the middle or at the end of the sentence – it’s not a filler but a way to say “let’s see/lemme see/lemme check something/hmm/so”.
- A ver. ¿cuándo vienen a visitarnos? (Hmmm/Let’s see, when are you going to visit us?)
- A ver, niño, cuéntame lo que te ha pasado. (So, kid, tell me what has happened to you)
- A ver si adivinas lo que cenaremos esta noche. (Let’s see if you guess what we’re dining tonight)
Ah, ¿sí? / ¡Ah!, ¿sí?
Definition: similar to huh? / huh!
These two ways of writing this Spanish conversation filler are correct. Depending on the tone you’re using, it can imply sarcasm or astonishment.
- Anoche me levanté a beber un vaso de agua y me pareció ver a mi abuelo muerto en la cocina. (Last night I woke up to drink a glass of water and I think I saw my dead grandpa in the kitchen)
¡Ah!, ¿sí? (Wait! What?)
- Eres una mentirosa. (You are a liar)
Ah, ¿sí? ¿Quién fue la primera en mentirme? (Oh really? Who was the first to lie to me?)
Ahí lo dejo
Definition: You can interpret it as “just saying”.
Natives often leave it at the end of their sentences after dropping “bomb” information or trying to suggest it to others.
- Hay un montón de basura que tirar, ahí lo dejo. (There’s a lot of trash to take out, just saying)
- Si es un mentiroso patológico, ¿de verdad crees que está siendo sincero contigo esta vez? Ahí lo dejo. (If he’s a pathological liar, do you really think that he’s being honest with you this time? I mean… come on.
Definition: “Uh Huh” in Spanish.
- Ajá, y ¿no deberías estar en la cama? (Aha! Shouldn’t you be in bed now?)
Es que me provocó ir al baño, relájate. (I just needed to go to the bathroom. Calm down.)
Así que / Entonces
You use them to introduce a reason or create a continuation for your thoughts.
- ¿Vas el sábado a la fiesta de Karina? (Are you going to Karina’s party on Saturday)
No me gusta bailar, así que mejor me quedo en casa con mi esposo. (I don’t like to dance, so I better stay at home with my husband)
- Entonces, ¿te dibujo el tatuaje en el hombro o en el brazo? (So, shall I draw the tattoo on your shoulder or on your arm)
Definition: well / okay.
One of the most common conversation fillers, you use bueno to give your opinion or to change the subject of a conversation. Plus, it’s also very handy when you are hesitant to respond to a question or a comment. You’ll also hear people answer the phone this way.
- Bueno, no importa. (Well/Okay (in a resigned way), it doesn’t matter)
- ¿Qué planes tienes para el verano? (What plans do you have for this summer)
Bueno…voy a visitar a mi abuelo en Florida. (Well… I am going to visit my grandpa in Florida)
Calla, Calla (Spain)
Definition: literally means, “shut up, shut up”, but it stands for “hey” or “stop”.
It’s used in Spain to request people’s attention and generate expectations. Thus, it implies that what’s coming is something intriguing.
- Calla, calla, ¿sabes quién me llamó ayer? (Hey, hey, (shush, shush) do you know who called me yesterday?)
Claro/ Claro que
Definition: sure / of course.
Claro is a word you’ll hear very often in the Spanish-speaking world.
- ¿Sigues interesado en lo que hablamos? (Are you interested in what we talked about?)
Claro que me interesa, si no no estaría aquí. (Of course, I’m interested, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here)
- ¿Puedo usar tu bici mañana? (Can I use your bike tomorrow?)
¡Claro! Pero no la vayas a ensuciar. (Sure! But don’t get it dirty)
Como / Tipo
Definition: like, kind of.
You use these Spanish conversation fillers when you want to explain something further or in a different way. It is worth knowing that it always comes after the verb ser. For instance; es como (is like), son tipo (are like/are the…kind). Additionally, this is the preferred filler word by younger Spanish speakers.
- Este plato es interesante. Es como una fusión de cocina italiana y francesa. (This plate is interesting. It is like a fusion of Italian and French cuisine)
Nuestra cita fue tipo tranquila. (Our appointment was kind of quiet/Our appointment was the quiet kind)
De verdad / De verdad que
Definition: for real / really.
You use it to give your opinion about something.
- De verdad me gusta su forma de trabajar. (I really like his/her way to work)
- De verdad que no estoy sorprendido con este desastre. (I am really not surprised by this disaster)
- De verdad, creo que eres muy bueno en tu profesión. (For real, I think you are very good in your profession)
Digamos que /Digo / Supongo que / Supongamos que / Imagínate que
Definition: let’s say, I say, I suppose that, let’s suppose that, imagine that.
Words used to present a hypothetical situation and/or your opinion.
- Digamos que/Supongamos que nos vamos a Suiza; ¿cómo lo vamos a pagar? (Let ‘s say we go to Switzerland, how are we going to afford it?)
- Digo, no eres la única a la que le han puesto los cuernos. Muchas mujeres pasan por lo mismo. (I mean, you are not the only one who has been cheated on. Many women go through the same thing)
- Imagínate que tienes todo el dinero del mundo, que harías con él? (Imagine you have all the money in the world, what would you do with it?)
Eh / Ea
Definition: They are interjections.
We use Eh and Ea to call, despise, ask, warn, or reprimand someone.
- ¡Eh/Ea, Luis! Hace tiempo que no sabía nada de ti. (Hey, Luis!) It’s been a while since I heard from you)
- ¿Eh/Ea? ¿Qué me dijiste? (What/Hey? What did you say?)
El tema es que / La cosa es que / Lo que pasa es que
Definition: The closest English equivalents of these three Spanish expressions are “the thing is” and “what happens is that”.
- Yo siempre le digo lo mismo. El tema es que/La cosa es que él no me escucha. (I always say the same. Thing is he doesn’t listen to me)
- Sí, jefe, yo iba a llegar temprano hoy, lo que pasa es que tengo el carro danado. (Yes, boss, I was going to arrive early today. It’s just that my car is broken)
En fin / Total / Total que
Definition: finally/ definitively / in total / as a result / it turned out that.
- Yo siempre le aconsejaba que tomara sus precauciones. ¿En fin, qué le vamos a hacer? (I would always advise her to be careful. In the end, what can we really do?)
- Fui para la cita y total que el tipo no era discapacitado, sino que fingía serlo. (I went to the date and it turned out the guy was not disabled, he was faking it)
- Ella va a cumplir sus sueños. Total, se lo merece. (She is going to make her dreams come true. She definitely deserves it)
Did you like these Spanish conversation fillers?
Then, it’s time to include them in your speech. As a Spanish learner, you won’t see these words written as often as you’ll hear them. Thus, since training your ears to the sounds of native speakers is a must.
Listening and speaking immersion with TruFluency will be perfect to hone your skills. Spanish conversation filler words are easy to remember and instantly make you sound like a native. Most of them are easy-to-remember and can help you blaze through shyness and the fear of making mistakes. But, there’s more to learn! We’ll continue our list of top Spanish conversation fillers in Part 2 of this article.
If you want to improve your Spanish with us, you can book a private Spanish session with a coach. Try one of our teachers and save 20% off your first month of classes with code TF20!