“Hmm” is a very interesting word. It gives us a lot to think about, even though it’s so simple. Technically, it’s not a word, but it crops up a lot in texting, so it’s important to understand its meaning. Let’s cover the six meanings here to understand them better (and maybe use them yourself).
1. Time To Think
The first meaning is the simplest and most common way to use “hmm.” It’s often texted when somebody is thinking about a response or answer to a question. It’s often texted straight after you’ve asked them a question. They use it to let you know that they’re thinking about the question and have understood what you asked for.
However, the reason they’ve used “hmm” is to let you know they’re not quite ready to answer. It helps the questioner to know that they’re actively thinking about a good response or answer. Typically, if you text “hmm,” in this manner, you’ll reply with an answer soon after to let them know definitely what you want to reply to. The longer you wait to reply, the less you’ve understood the meaning of “hmm.”
- Hmm, I’ll get back to you on that.
2. Don’t Know The Answer
The next meaning is common to see, though not as common as the thinking meaning. This time, we’re using “hmm” as a way to show that we’re not actually sure about the answer. It’s most commonly used by people who don’t want to admit that they don’t know the answer. It can also be something as simple as not understanding the question.
If you know them well, they might not want to seem stupid to you for not understanding it. If you don’t know them well, they might be trying to impress you by not answering the question straight away. Typically, when someone says “hmm” in this manner, they’re hoping that you’ll respond with an answer before they’re forced to give the incorrect one.
- Hmm, I don’t understand the question you’ve asked me, but I’ll pretend like I’m thinking of the answer so that you give it to me while I wait.
3. Avoid The Question
Very similar to above, “hmm” is used to avoid answering a question. If someone is uncomfortable with the question you’ve asked or uncomfortable with the response they might have to give, then “hmm” is a suitable response in this manner. Typically, if you use “hmm” in this way, people will understand that they’ve either asked a question you don’t want to answer or will assume you don’t know the answer.
It’s a useful way for you to respond to someone like this. They’ll usually always move on if you don’t reply after a while of saying “hmm,” and you will avoid answering the question entirely.
- Hmm, I don’t feel comfortable answering that question.
If someone has left a chat open for a brief pause to think, then sometimes the other person might begin to feel a little awkward. If this is the case, they can feign interest or pretend like they’re answering a question by using “hmm” to break that silence. However, this meaning is more commonly found when using “hmm” in spoken English rather than in written English as a text message.
Just because it’s often spoken doesn’t mean it isn’t used the same way we write it in text. If a text message has been left on “read,” some people like to attempt to get the other person’s attention by writing “hmm” when they notice they’re being ignored.
- Hmm, this is awkward, and I can’t think of anything to say. Hopefully, this is enough to get you to reply.
5. Wondering About Something Else
If someone has recently had a conversation with someone else, then they may use “hmm” in this manner to reflect on that conversation. They can ponder something someone else has said for as long as they need and may use it in this sense. If you’re texting someone who uses “hmm” in this regard, then you might notice they spend a bit of time talking to you about a conversation they had with someone else.
- Hmm, that was an interesting piece of information. I wonder what they meant about it.
The last meaning we have found use alongside “hmm” is to acknowledge something said. If the answer to a question only needs a “yes” or “no,” then you might find that a “hmm” is used instead of anything else. Also, if someone would rather just acknowledge the answer to a question briefly without having to elaborate too much on it, then “hmm” is used in this way to let the questioner know that nothing more needs to be said.
If you know someone who uses “hmm” in this regard, it’s often because they can’t come up with a better response. It is often seen as lazy, though it depends on the person and how well you know them whether you want to take any offense. It’s seen as a very non-committal response, which makes some people feel like their question held no importance to the answerer.
- Hmm, yes, I suppose so.
Is It Rude To Write “Hmm”?
Writing rude in a text has two potential outcomes. Either the person you’re texting doesn’t mind and moves on, or they really don’t like it and worry about why you might have said it. Nine times out of ten, it is rude to write “hmm” in a text if you can say something more valuable. If you’re saying “hmm” because you can’t be bothered to give a better response, then most people will notice and see you as a rude individual.
There are very few cases where “hmm” isn’t seen as rude. The most common case is in the first meaning. If you use “hmm” to show that you’re thinking about an answer, some people often understand the meaning and wait patiently. To those people, they like to know that you’ve at least understood the question and are now patiently waiting for a response.
However, if you use “hmm” in any other context, then you’ll almost always be rude to the receiver. They expect to have a nice time texting you, even if they don’t know you that well. It’s never nice to think that you’ve taken up someone’s time or they’re not in the mood to talk to you. “Hmm” is a typical response for anyone who’s disinterested or no longer wants to continue a conversation.
If you’ve found that you’re one of those people that write “hmm” a lot in texts, you may need to reevaluate what you’re doing. However, if you notice that many of your friends are writing “hmm” and it’s bothering you, it might be time to talk to them about it. A simple conversation can go a long way in helping you understand why they might be writing it so much. Sometimes, it can be something as simple as a language barrier where they don’t know what words to use to respond.
What Can You Write Instead Of “Hmm”?
So, what can we use instead of “hmm?” There are plenty of other options out there, and it’s good to use any one of these over the simple “hmm.” As we stated above, “hmm” is construed as rude and lazy, so all of these alternatives that we’re about to provide are excellent to use. With all of these, people won’t think of you as lazy and will instead respect your response and wait for your reply.
- Give me a second while I think.
This one is definitely more formal than a “hmm” would be. It makes perfect sense to use it in a business text (for example, if your boss texts you). You can also use it well with friends, and they’ll appreciate that little extra time you took to type out a proper message over a simple three-letter reply with no real meaning.
- Can I get back to you on that?
Again, we’re writing out a full message in the form of a question to let someone know that we’ve received their question and are figuring out the answer. If they’ve set up a meeting or date, it’s good to ask a question like this because it means you’ll go off and look at your schedule before committing to it, which helps them a lot. It’s another way of using “hmm” without looking lazy.
- Bear with me
Again, if you use this, it shows you’ve taken the time to think up a response rather than using “hmm.” This is good in both formal and informal settings, so use it whenever you like.
What Can You Reply When Someone Writes “Hmm”?
If you find that someone has replied “hmm” to your question, give them a second before you reply. They may send you a response not too long after that! However, if you still don’t receive a reply after that, it’s a good idea to ask them what they might be wondering about. You might be able to help them out if they’re stuck with your question and don’t know how to answer it. It’s important to remain calm and civil. Don’t get angry at them. They might be busy, after all! Do you want to know more about this topic? Then keep on reading: 28 Best Replies To “Hmm” (Witty & Clever)
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Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.