What makes a person sound smart? Though there are many different definitions of what “smart” even means, the reality remains that certain vocabulary words make people’s eyes light up with awe.
Having been an English teacher for the past 18 years, now, I’ve compiled this list for you of 16 fabulous phrases and vocabulary words which are useful, impactful, and impressive. Experiment with using them, and let us know the effects!
Words that Make You Sound Smart:
Pop a few of these phrases and fancy vocabulary words into your speech and writing, and watch how impressed people are with how smart you sound! Here are definitions, example sentences, and further reading to learn more. Enjoy...
Context refers to the surroundings of something, and is a KEY concept in every aspect life, since it impacts everything. Phrases which sound smart include: "What was the context?" and, "You have to remember the context." In each of these sentences, you're reminding the listener that the surrounding situation makes a difference, and must be taken into account.
Former and Latter
In a list of two things, the first item is called "the former" and the second is "the latter." It sounds mighty fancy if someone asks you which of two items you desire, and you respond: "The latter, please." You can also say something like, "Between the two options, I'm leaning towards the former."
Something is ironic when there's a contrast between what is said or done, and reality, or what is expected. There are actually three types of irony, so read more about them here.
A Liminal Space
Ever feel like you're in an in-between situation, stage, place, or time? That's a liminal space! If someone asks you how you are, and you can reply, "I'm in a bit of a liminal space right now, as I'm transitioning from summer to the school year."
Imply and Infer
"To imply" means to strongly hint at something, while inferring is when you piece together hints to make an educated guess about a somewhat hidden meaning or truth. Ex: "I can infer from your tone that you're implying my hat looks silly." Both words are wonderful to sprinkle into discussions!
Relevant and Irrelevant
The word "relevant" means on-topic, while the word "irrelevant" means unrelated. Next time you want to scream, "RANDOM!" after someone gives a bizarre statement that's completely beside the point, instead try saying, "Hm, that statement was rather irrelevant. Can we stay focused on the matter at hand, please?"
"To juxtapose" means to place two contrasting things side by side. For example, if a very tall person is standing beside an extremely short one, you might say, "That's a striking juxtaposition, right there!" You can also point out contrasts in situations, for example: "The juxtaposition between my relaxed weekend schedule and my frantic weekday one is quite extreme."
Themes are present everywhere, and are defined as the overall message about life implied by something. For example, you could say, "A theme of this week has been the importance of being flexible. All three of us has to change our plans at the last minute and make them work!"
Foreshadowing is a hint of something that will come in the future. It's frequently used in books and movies, but is certainly evident in life as well! You can say something like, "In retrospect, those clouds were clearly foreshadowing today's storm!" to indicate that you now see the hints that were suggesting a future outcome.
"A Flair For..."
Having a flair for something means having a special skill, talent, or passion for it. You could use this phrase by saying, "You have such a flair for drawing! I'm really impressed with what you've made."
A figure of speech is a phrase which has a meaning different from the literal (on-the-surface) one. To use this, you can say something like, "I'm so hungry, I could eat an elephant! I mean that figuratively, of course -- don't cook me an elephant."
"It's a Dilemma"
When something is a dilemma, it is a difficult choice between two things. If someone tells you a hard situation they're in, you can practice active and compassionate listening by replying, "Wow -- that really is a dilemma you're in! I wish you so much luck."
If you hear a "POW!" or "WHIRRR" or other sound effect word, that's onomatopoeia. When you spot it in writing (as with a comic book fight) or elsewhere, you can exclaim, "That's some good onomatopoeia right there!"
Being in awe of something means you feel a huge sense of amazement; you're extremely impressed, and maybe a little scared because of the magnitude. Use it as a compliment like, "I'm in awe of your fashion sense! There's no one better dressed than you in our class."
Tone and Mood
Tone refers to the emotion behind one speaker's words, while mood is about the general ambiance of a place, story, movie, etc. You can say, "Your tone seems a bit harsh -- are you mad at me?" or, "The mood in this restaurant is so romantic! I love it."
Metacognition is the practice of thinking about your thinking in order to ascertain which strategies are working, and which need to be changed up for better effectiveness. Though it's often used in the classroom around reading, it's a powerful tool for all walks of life. Use it in a phrase like: "I was metacognitively reflecting about my morning routine, and realized that if I lay out my clothes the night before, I'll save a ton of time."
Stalactites and Stalagmites
If you can tell the difference between stalactites (the cave spikes that come down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (the spikes that come up from the cave's ground), you'll have listeners bowing down in awe! Learn a trick to keep these words straight in this article.
What Does “Smart” Mean?
I can’t use the word “smart” without adding a vital caveat: The word “smart” is problematic, and has been used in oppressive and inaccurate ways. For example, “smart” is often correlated with a specific cultural group’s norms (often the hegemonic white, Western culture) — a practice which it is essential to unpack, deconstruct, and subvert. Why? Let’s examine the countless ways there are to “be smart.”
Other Forms of “Being Smart”
“Smart” takes an infinite number of forms. It spans physical smarts (as with a brilliant athlete), creative and artistic smarts, emotional smarts (as with a child who finally learns how to apologize), and more.
“Being smart” or “sounding smart” is not just about a specific way of talking or writing, or even about getting high grades. It’s about showing passion and skill development in any area — meaning every single person and every single living being is smart in its own way.
Why are “Smart Words” Still Useful?
All that said, I’m using the term “smart” in this article because each of the words in this list represents a concept which is AWESOME — and important. For example, knowing what a “liminal space” is opens up a wide new world of emotional smarts and spiritual, energetic understanding which is hard articulate without that phrase. Fancy words may be fun, but they’re also profoundly useful.
Which of these “Words to Sound Smart” is YOUR Favorite?
Looking at this list of “words that make you sound smart,” which are your favorites, and why? If you’ve tried some out, what were the effects? Do share!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English who has been a public school educator since 2003, and an experienced Reiki practitioner since 2018. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!