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Hmm vs. Umm: What's the Difference?

By Aimie Carlson & Janet White || Updated on May 20, 2024
"Hmm" expresses thoughtfulness or hesitation, while "Umm" indicates uncertainty or searching for words during speech.

Key Differences

"Hmm" is often used to signal that someone is thinking or considering something. It's a sound that conveys a moment of contemplation or pondering over a matter. "Umm," on the other hand, is commonly used as a filler word during speech, indicating uncertainty or hesitation. It often appears when someone is searching for the right words to say or trying to gather their thoughts.
In conversation, "Hmm" is typically followed by a statement or decision, whereas "Umm" often precedes a pause or a question. "Hmm" can indicate deeper thinking or consideration, suggesting the person is processing information internally.
"Umm" is more spontaneous and less reflective, usually emerging in the flow of speech as a way to fill silence and avoid abrupt pauses. It helps to keep the conversation going smoothly even when the speaker is momentarily unsure.
While "Hmm" can sometimes be drawn out to emphasize contemplation, "Umm" is generally shorter and more frequent, highlighting immediate uncertainty. Both sounds play distinct roles in verbal communication, aiding in the expression of thought and hesitation.

Comparison Chart


Thoughtfulness or consideration
Uncertainty or searching for words

Typical Context

Reflecting on a question or idea
During speech as a filler


Can be prolonged
Generally shorter and frequent

Followed By

A statement or decision
A pause or question


Indicates deeper thinking
Indicates immediate uncertainty

Hmm and Umm Definitions


A sound indicating pondering or musing.
Hmm, this puzzle is tricky.


Indicates hesitation in speech.
Umm, I don't know the answer.


Used to express thoughtful consideration.
Hmm, I need to think about that.


Used to delay speech momentarily.
Umm, I was going to say something.


Expresses mild curiosity.
Hmm, I wonder what that means.


Fills pauses in conversation.
Umm, can you repeat that?


Used to signify being lost in thought.
Hmm, where did I put my keys?


A filler word used while thinking.
Umm, let me check my calendar.


Shows doubt or questioning.
Hmm, are you sure about that?


Shows uncertainty or doubt.
Umm, maybe we should ask someone else.


Indicating thinking or pondering.
Hmm... that's an interesting idea.
Hmm... I just can't decide between the two.
Hmm... creation or evolution? That’s the big question.


Used to express doubt or uncertainty or to fill a pause when hesitating in speaking.


A demand for an answer to a question.
Just where were you until 2 a.m.? Hmm?


Implying hesitation.
- How does a plane fly?
- Umm, I don't know.


(intransitive) To make a thoughtful humming noise.


To make the umm sound to express confusion or hesitancy.


Is "Hmm" a filler word?

No, it's more of a sound used for contemplation.

Does "Hmm" always indicate doubt?

Not always; it can also signify thinking or curiosity.

What does "Hmm" signify in conversation?

It indicates thoughtfulness or consideration.

Does "Umm" have different spellings?

It’s commonly spelled "um" or "uhm" as well.

What is the tone of "Umm"?

It’s usually neutral, indicating a pause for thought.

Is "Umm" used worldwide?

Yes, but the exact sound might vary by language.

When do people use "Umm"?

It's used during speech to show hesitation or uncertainty.

Is "Umm" considered informal?

Yes, it’s an informal speech filler.

Can "Hmm" be a question?

It can imply questioning but isn’t a direct question.

Is "Umm" polite in conversation?

It’s neutral but overuse can seem unconfident.

Can "Hmm" show agreement?

It might, but usually with a contemplative tone.

Can "Umm" be used in writing?

It’s rarely used in formal writing but may appear in dialogue.

Do both "Hmm" and "Umm" have non-verbal equivalents?

Yes, like a thoughtful look for "Hmm" and a hesitant look for "Umm."

How is "Hmm" pronounced?

With a prolonged "h" sound followed by a nasal "m."

Can "Hmm" be sarcastic?

Rarely, but context can affect interpretation.

Is there a formal equivalent of "Umm"?

No exact equivalent, but pauses or “let me think” can be used.

Do children use "Hmm"?

Yes, often when thinking about an answer.

Are "Hmm" and "Umm" similar in any language?

Many languages have similar sounds for thinking and hesitation.

Do both "Hmm" and "Umm" appear in written dialogue?

Yes, to convey characters' hesitation or thought processes.

Does "Umm" indicate nervousness?

It can, especially if used frequently.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Co-written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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