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For a non-native speaker like me, I am always wondering how to use you know correctly, as in the following sentence:

Alright, well, for example, like on Saturdays, y’know, what I liked to do was probably what any, y’know, little boy used to do. I liked to go out, play with my friends, y’know, play some baseball or some football or, y’know, just, just hang out with my friends.

Is it overused? Why do Americans use this phrase so much?

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17  
You know, as a non-native speaker, like, myself, I would not, like, deliberately teach myself, like, you know, talking like that. –  RegDwigнt Dec 22 '10 at 15:01
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Related question. –  Kosmonaut Dec 22 '10 at 15:11
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You know is not only an Americanism but also a filler used in virtually every part of the English speaking world. –  Jimi Oke Dec 22 '10 at 17:26
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Well, y'know, you just don't know. Y'know? –  David Schwartz Feb 14 '12 at 7:46
    
@RegDwightѬſ道: well, if you want to get the vernacular just right, for say acting, yeah you might. –  Mitch Feb 14 '12 at 22:07

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I agree that most of the time "you know" is meaningless filler, and as such is quite overused, but there are also other uses.

"You know" can be used to refer to an idea that may be difficult or tedious to express in words but that the speaker thinks is relatable, so in this context it means "if you catch the gist of what I'm saying, I'll omit the explanation" or "do you relate with what I'm describing?". This can indicate that the speaker is unable to express the idea in words or simply does not wish to. For example,

So I'm walking home from work, when all of a sudden I get this tingly feeling, you know? Like someone's watching me.

Or

Person A: Why didn't you tell your wife about it?
Person B: Oh, you know... it's complicated.

It can also mean "I think you should know" or "for your information". Examples:

You know, if you don't shape up soon, I might be forced to fire you.

If you keep doing that, you'll catch a cold, you know.

It can also mean "come to think of it" when introducing a sentence:

You know, that's really not a bad idea.

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It is also used to fill space to give the speaker time to decide how to compose the next portion of what they're saying. It basically says, "Don't interrupt me, I'm going to finish this thought. I just need a bit longer." When used that way, it is similar to "umm" or "uhh". –  David Schwartz Feb 14 '12 at 7:44

When used in excess, these fillers are very annoying. However, our ya'knows, umms, and errs do serve various communications purposes, some of which are discussed in the paper Disfluency Rates in Conversation: Effects of Age, Relationship, Topic, Role, and Gender (PDF).

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I really dislike filler words such as "like", "you know", and others that are even worse. They indicate the speaker thinks slower than they talk.

Why do Americans love to use them so much? I'll tell you.

In a normal conversation there is an exchange of ideas; I'll say something, you respond, then I take your response into consideration. People cue others to respond by pausing when they speak; if you pause, the other person knows it's okay to interrupt you.

Filler breaks that. They are a way of never pausing, or allowing the other person to respond, while not actually saying anything. It's a way of turning conversations into monologues.

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It seems to me that as Americans, we overuse it in a context where you don't really know. If we are being so vague or confusing that our listener cannot understand, we should clarify directly instead of pinning someone into agreeing when they may in fact not agree or understand.

I don't mind it being used once in a while, and I use it myself, but in your example, using it once may make you sound like a native speaker. Using it that many times would make you sound a bit daft.

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-1: I'm fairly certain the asker picked up that example from a piece of literature. In reality, many speakers do use it that many times to punctuate their thoughts. Calling such persons daft is too strong a castigation, in my opinion. –  Jimi Oke Dec 22 '10 at 17:23
    
Fair enough, although I wouldn't advise anyone to use it so frequently. –  Rosey28 Dec 23 '10 at 3:33
    
I agree with that sentiment. –  Jimi Oke Dec 23 '10 at 3:56

It is a message-free pause token. It is a vague signal for affirmation, as in, "do you understand what I'm referring to?", but it is mostly just filler while the brain catches up with the mouth.

It is absolutely overused, but every language and dialect has this kind of filler. I train myself and my kids to merely pause when I am inclined to use it.

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Second that! The phrases "you know" and "like" are currently considered ugly when used in the way the OP indicated. Don't. Dutch has "zeg maar", which means "say", as in "let's assume a monkey that has been in the zoo for, say, twelve years"; but people use it exactly the same way Americans use "like". It is equally depreciated. –  Cerberus Dec 22 '10 at 15:37
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I think "message free" is a bit misleading. Nowadays, people discuss their utility as discourse markers. You hint at this in your answer, but I just wanted to stress that they aren't truly "message-free" — they do convey something. –  Kosmonaut Dec 22 '10 at 22:21
    
Agreed, but is anything truly message free in theory? It is like saying that no true synonyms exist, which is technically true. –  Cerberus Dec 22 '10 at 23:06
    
Not "message-free", even in theory. Their message is "I don't want you to respond". –  Dour High Arch Dec 23 '10 at 3:49
    
Another filler heavily used here is "right". I'm never sure whether these true word fillers are better than the "umms" and "errs" you get instead from many. They probably are less irritating, hard to tell. –  Orbling May 5 '11 at 3:49

protected by RegDwigнt Jul 26 '13 at 1:04

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