9 Ways and 42 Phrases and Words That Give You Time To Think

What Are Some Type of Words and Phrases That Give Us Time to Think?

There are many occasions, including some exams, when as an English learner you would appreciate some more time to think, some words or phrases that buy some precious seconds to gather your thoughts! Let’s see what options are available!

There are 7 main words and phrases that can give you time to think (and 2 non-verbal techniques):

  1. Comment on the previous person’s input (e.g. ‘Wow that’s a difficult question’)
  2. Rephrase what has just been asked (Oh, what I think about...
  3. Introduce your thinking (Yeah, yeah, I think about this a lot actually
  4. Ask them to clarify or repeat what they mean
  5. Introduce your structure (I think it really depends on a couple of things, like for example…
  6. Talk about what a great topic it is (Yeah this is such an interesting film, book
  7. Answer with your gut reaction quickly and then use some other techniques (I loved the film…. But it is a great question because actually...

  8. & 2 non verbal techniques
  9. Add body language – raise a hand, exaggerate ‘thinking’ saying “well….”
  10. Slow down as you approach your actual content

Let’s just briefly look at what I mean and a couple of phrases that you could add to your armoury today!

1 Comment on the previous person’s input

Example phrases:

  • Wow, that’s a great/interesting/difficult question!
  • Oh, you know, no one has ever asked me that, let me see, I guess…
  • Oh you would think that people ask me that question a lot, but they don’t, I think...
  • That’s a really common feeling actually , so don’t feel bad, I think….

Commenting on another person’s question, or remark, is not only great to give you some added seconds for thinking, it is also great manners too!

One way to think about a conversation is that whenever a person is speaking they are holding a ball and then when they finish they pass the ball to you. Instinctively they would like you to say some sort of ‘thank you / acknowledgment’ - or maybe even that you give them at least a little feedback on what they had just said.

Super common feedback phrases include ‘Yes, that’s right’, ‘That’s true’ etc.

So overall it is definitely something to incorporate into your English anyway, and the longer comments also give you more thinking time too!

2 Rephrase what has just been asked

Example phrases:

    A close repetition of the question:
  • Oh right, what do I think about the XYZ problem? Well…
  • Hmm, now then, what would I do in that/ABC situation? I think….
  • A loose repetition, maybe adding stress:
  • Ah, so I guess you are asking what I personally think about ABC? Well…
  • Uh-huh, so basically... what I would do if that happened to me? Well I guess...

This could be a little bit stilted sometimes, especially if the question was already clear, direct and concise.

However, if the person had asked quite a long question, with many details, asides or extra information for example, then summarizing a little about what part you are going to focus on, or what you have understood to be the question is a very valid starting point.

And this is also a pretty valid start if the person had asked a complicated, vague or open-ended question; something that was open to a bit of interpretation. So again, this is a valid initial sentence - irrespective if you need thinking time or not!

There is a practical element to this too. It allows the other person to change your possible focus/direction – maybe you were going in a direction they are not very interested in, or in the case of miscommunication - that there was a misunderstanding in what was actually being asked.

3 Introduce Your Thinking

Example phrases:

  • Oh wow, I think about this a lot actually because I have always…+more
  • Right, I guess I should say first of all that I am actually...+more
  • Cool, OK, I think you should know that I...+more
  • OK, I think one of the things we should remember here is that...+more

I think this is actually an extremely valid way to start any difficult question or discussion – especially if the question requires you to give a personal opinion about an issue.

It basically is just telling the other person where you stand, what type of person you are, what you believe in etc etc. It is giving context to your answer.

So for example:

    Question: What do you think of the way she treated him?

  • Answer: “Oh, right, well I guess you should know that I...”
  • + more =
  • “...firmly believe in non-violence but...”
  • + start answer
  • “...in this particular situation I think...”

Note here that it really offers some great advantages when you answer the question, the ‘more’ part...

  • 1 ...can be quite long.
  • 2 ...can be full of ideas that you have already and don’t need thinking time.
  • 3 ...can use platitudes.
  • 4 ...can show you as reasonable before you give a ‘strong’ opinion.
  • 5 ...can re-frame the direction of the question if you want
  • Etc etc and so on! There really are many ways to abuse this technique… in fact...

...in fact this technique is so strong that politicians always use it! We ask them a question and they tell us what they want to say - while we are forced to wait ages for our answer...if it even comes at all!

This also tells you the downside of using this too much, or, of delaying an answer too long… we get bored and quite possibly smell a rat! I mean who would actually enjoy talking to someone who answers almost every question like a politician!!

However, used occasionally and briefly it can really add to the value of the conversation – so go for it!

4 Ask them to clarify or repeat what they mean

Situations & example phrases

    You ask confirmation what the question might be (being specific)
  • Hmm, are you asking what I would say or what I would do in that situation?
  • Sorry, you want me to tell you what I think of PQR?
  • You ask directly for them to repeat the question
  • Sorry, could you say that again? I didn’t quite catch that.
  • Sorry, what did you just ask me? I got distracted for a second.
  • You ask them to clarify what they were asking
  • Sorry, what do you mean by….?
  • In what way (do you mean…..? / is it….?)
  • How do you mean exactly? Sorry.
  • You ask them for their hidden agenda (this is verging on the dirty tactics in the box below)
  • What are you really asking me here?
  • What are you driving at exactly?
  • What are you trying to get at?

Sometimes this is necessary anyways!

If you felt that the question you heard, or understood, might not be exactly what the other person was asking (factually or intention) then perhaps asking them to clarify is the very best thing you can do.

However, as a tactic to buy time it is a little bit ‘shady’. I mean in the sense that you are hoping that if they ask you in a slightly different way, your brain will suddenly up its game! And of course this is ok - just a bit 'dirty'!

Dirty Trick Tip You could of course go one step further and refuse to think or speak! So called ‘turning the tables’! Examples:
  • Hmmm what do YOU think?
  • WHY are you asking?
  • Why don’t YOU answer that question first?

5 Introduce your structure

Example Phrases

  • I guess there are (at least) a couple of ways to think about that, for example...
  • I think it really depends on a couple of things, like for example…
  • I would do that in a few steps I think, maybe first I would...

These are great phrases even if you know exactly what you are about to say!

They really allow you to ‘drive the bus’ well – both in terms of structuring yourself logically and allowing your audience to follow you because you have given them a ‘map’ at the very beginning!

It also allows you to not feel that you need to answer everything at once, but you can introduce some minor points before your main point or points.

6 Talk about what a great topic it is

Example phrases

  • Oh wow that is such an interesting area to talk about!
  • Oh yeah, that is such a good book/tv show/film….
  • I love everything about that topic/area/subject, I really do!
  • Well first off I think it’s a great…..[city, subject, problem…] because….
  • Oh it’s an incredible XYZ because there is so much that you can say!

Now if you use any of these phrases and you are not sincere then your listeners are not going to believe you one iota!

These phrases will come across as totally cheesey and fake if you just say them to buy time, so be careful.

But on the other hand, if you are genuinely interested and you mean what you say – then go for it! Enthusiasm is a lovely thing to have and to share – especially if the other person is also positive about the topic!

7 Answer immediately with your gut reaction and then use some other techniques

Example phrases

  • I disagree sorry. I think, you know, there are so many factors to take into consideration….
  • It’s totally worth it. But first I really want to say how much I like the JKL in general it’s a great…
  • Do it! Uhmmm and you know I guess the reason why I might say that is….
  • Don’t do it! I mean if I understand your question correctly then you want to know if….
  • I wouldn’t bother. It is a great question and there is a lot of things you can say about it, like…

So this seems a bit strange, you want time to think but I am telling you to answer immediately!

But the reality is that many many times we know the main answer but we need time to think about how we can explain ourselves.

There are some pros and cons about this approach. (Given that you have a direct answer that pops into your head in the first place!!)

The disadvantages to this approach might include that as you continue talking you might disagree with your initial answer! But some people would see that as fantastic, that you are open to change your mind.

However, another problem is that you might not get a chance to even explain yourself! Once you answer, another person might just enter the discussion and block you off. They may disagree with you – and you never took your chance to actually explain your point!

But there are also some great advantages! Firstly, they may ask you “Why?” because your opinion is not quite what they were expecting. Also, they will probably be happy because you actually answered their question straight away. Now they know WHAT you think, they are just listening to WHY. Listening to WHY without a WHAT can be very boring!

And so if you give an opinionated direct answer and then start buying thinking time it is much less waffle-like than starting to give a whole back story or fluff. It’s a high risk but potentially entertaining solution!

Finally, there are many more non-verbal techniques you can use. I imagine that you know most of them and use them anyway, but here are two main general types:

8 Add body language


  • Raise an open hand - indicating that you have heard the question, and then breath in
  • Exaggerate a ‘thinking’ visual {saying “well….” while you nod and lick your lips}
  • Start to say a single word as a long sound (‘weeeeeeelllllllll...’)

If someone asks a question, it is quite often deemed polite that you recognise in some way that someone has asked you something. Complete silence may be construed as quite unnerving – so there should be some sort of recognition. Body language like this is very useful for this.

It tells the other person you have heard them, and it can even show them that the question is a good one, that you need to think – which for many people is a compliment!

9 Slow down as you approach your actual content

You can start to speak quite quickly with some of the phrases I use here, this shows that you are alert and can think quickly – or so it seems – but once you use your introductory phrases you can start to slow down.

It is nice to see that the person is now thinking about the question, formulating an interesting answer – but because of your initial fast start you will not appear a boring or slow speaker.

For example: “Oh yes, that is a great question, I love this topic, and if I think about it there are a feeeewwwww thhhhiiiinnnnnnnggssss weeeee cooooullld thiiiinkkk abooout first, for example if we look at….”

Here you slowed down after a fast start to give you time to grab an idea, and then you sped up again to start talking about it!

Have fun using all these techniques and perfect your own personal strategy!

Have a great day!


Here are some links that could be of interest!

Check out: How to Describe a Picture or Photo in English for Exams

Check out: Criteria for Cambridge Proficiency (CPE) Speaking Exam

Check out: Useful Phrases for the CPE Speaking Exam

Check out: Useful Phrases for Luck in English for Learners