Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever heard somebody use the word “say” in a different way in English?

You may know the word “say” as a way of talking about what somebody is saying or communicating, and that’s one usage.

Today we’re looking at a different usage for the word say, and it’s one that you may actually use often in your conversations.

You will find that using the word say can be a great way to introduce an idea or hypothetical, and that’s what you will learn today and be able to try on your own.

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We have a question from a listener about the word “say”, and a different way that it can be used.

Hello Lindsay,

I listen to your show all the time, and I really enjoy it. I have a question for you today about a word that I hear used in a different sort of context. I would like to know how native speakers use the word “say” as a filler in conversation.

I have heard people use the word “say” many times while listening to NPR podcasts, and I want to understand this. I haven’t put this into practice yet in my own conversations, but I would like to. Any help you can provide would be much appreciated!

Thank you in advance,

Ricky Shie

Understanding Some Background

Using the word “say” can be an interesting addition to your conversations.

You are likely used to hearing it in the context of the words that you use or what you say, but we’re looking at a different usage here.

The listener asks a great question above, and it’s something that we want to think through when it comes to using the word “say.”

In the example provided and others like it, say is not used like “he says” or “I say”– it is used in a completely different way.

What does it mean in this instance?

Here it is basically “for example”–you could plug for example in and it would mean the same thing.

Using “say” in this way is all about touching on the hypotheticals and the ideas that you have at that moment.

It’s a great transition word and though it’s a less traditional usage, you will find that it has a significant place in conversation.

Let’s look at the example again because that will give you some helpful background.

Here it’s all about coming up with a hypothetical, such as an example of situations with buying guns.

Let’s take a look at how this worked in context on a snippet from an NPR broadcast.

News Brief: Boulder Shooting, Gun Bills, Pandemic Survey Of Schools March 24, 20215:04 AM ET

This was heard on Morning Edition and you can check out the whole episode here

“And when he was explaining this, he said he opposes the idea of universal background checks because that would require a background check even if you’re, say, buying a gun from another private citizen that you know.”

So you can see that this is a great example for how you might use the word “say” in this context.

Let’s take a look at some additional examples so that you can really understand how this works.

Looking At Some Examples

With a word and a usage like this, you want to look at some examples of how this can work.

Once you see these examples, you can get a feel for how you might use it in your conversations.

So let’s get into some examples so that you can truly understand how you would use say in this context.

“If he had some hobby, say, a sport, I think he would be much happier.”

“She wants to buy a car, say a convertible.”

This is giving examples and so it works as a great transition word in the two examples above.

You will also find that say can be very useful for more hypothetical situations as well.

You may even hear people instead use it as “let’s say” which works well too.

“Imagine your favorite place– let’s say, a beach.”

“Let’s say you were stranded on a desert island.”

So it can be used in this way as well–to start the hypothetical and it’s very effective there as well.

In that way, it may even mean to pretend or imagine and it can be a great way to transition into this.

You may also use say to speak to something like an approximation or a guess, as if you are trying to get close to an actual number or idea.

Using say in this way is like trying to use “about” or “around” but it’s just a different way of expressing it.

You can see this in these examples as it can work quite well in this context.

“There will be, say, 10 people being interviewed for the position.”

“If you gain, say, 5 pounds on vacation, you may need new clothes when you get home.”

These are super useful and different ways to use the word “say”, and as you can see it’s quite versatile in this way.

These are great examples to use as practice for yourself, and then you will have a great idea of when you could use them appropriately in your own conversations.

Roleplay To Help

In this roleplay, Lindsay is buying a new coat and Michelle is helping her.

Lindsay: “I really like this one. I’m scared to check the price.”

Michelle: “Ok, but if you get a lot of use out of it and wear it around a lot, say to work and at nice events, it will be worth it. ” 

Lindsay: “That’s true.” 

Michelle: “Yeah! Let’s say you want to go out for a night on the town. This would be perfect. It pays for itself.”

Lindsay: “But say it costs over 100 dollars. That’s a lot.”

Michelle: “Ok but it could cost, say, 80 dollars. Would that be in your budget?”

Lindsay: “I guess so. Ok, let’s check!”


We don’t always want to say about, for example, and now you have another option.

Though this may not be the traditional use of the word “say” that you are used to, you can see how it works and try it out.

This is a fun and zippy word to express that idea and talk in hypotheticals.

That’s something that may very well come up in conversation often, and so you want to give it a try today.

Talking about ideas and hypotheticals can be fun and useful, so practice this usage and you will see how it comes in handy for future conversations.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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