What is Stammering?

A woman holding a baby on a park bench.

Stammering facts and the stigma surrounding it.

Stammering is when someone repeats, prolongs or gets stuck when trying to say sounds or words. There might also be signs of visible tension as the person works hard to get the word out. But it is different from the occasional repetition that everybody experiences.

We don't know exactly what causes stammering, but research is showing that it is neurological. This means that the way speech is produced in the brain is different for people who stammer. Stammering is the way some people talk. That's all.

Stammering Facts

  • About 8% of children will stammer at some point. For the majority of children this will be temporary.   
  • Up to 2%* of people will stammer into adulthood.
  • Stammering can run in families. Around 60% of people who stammer have a relative who stammers or used to stammer.
  • In the UK we largely use the term stammering. Other countries call it stuttering. But it means the same thing. 
  • More men than women stammer.
  • People of all ethnicities can stammer.
  • People do not stammer because they are less intelligent. It has nothing to do with personality types either (see the 'Stigma' header below).
  • Like other neurological conditions, it covers a spectrum. Everyone stammers differently and to different degrees.
  • Stammering is variable. People can stammer less on some days and more on others. They might also have periods in their life when they stammer less, and periods when they stammer more.
  • Many find that as they get older, they stammer less.
  • You might not even know that a person stammers. Some people use methods and strategies to mask their stammering, so that it is less obvious to others. Read more about this below.

See our Stammering Causes & Cures page to find out more.

(*This figure has historically been thought to be 1%. We have updated it following our 2021 YouGov polling. Read our article How many adults stammer?)

the experience of stammering

The physical act of stammering can be a tiny part of the experience. Growing up with a stammer, anticipating times when you'll need to talk, the negative responses, the ever-present expectation that you need fixing or need to breathe properly. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, anxiety and fear. Frustration that saying one's name — the one thing that most people who stammer will find hard to say — will stymie your every encounter. The frustration of not being taken seriously. For many people who stammer it is this aspect of having a stammer which forms the greater part of the experience, and there are many people out there who swap words, avoid contact, keep silent, so that people don't know that they stammer.

Stammering is variable. A stammer can change from one day, hour or sentence, to the next. The daily impact of this can be disempowering: to literally have the ability to take an active part in conversations or even order a coffee, be taken away by a physical disability.

There are all kinds of options for people who stammer, and we'll try and cover them on this site. See our Get Support section as well as Connect, where we've got a list of local and online stammering groups you can join.

Physically, stammering can be deeply frustrating, but the main problem, time and again, is other people's responses.

Read our page Life With a Stammer to learn more about what it's like. Check out our Your Voice section, which has tons of people who stammer telling their story and sharing their experiences.

A man sitting in a bar looking at the camera with the text 'Share your story'

Stigma

Stammering has been used as a device to make people laugh and to indicate dishonesty or low intelligence. This stereotyping, and the frustration caused by the difficulty of talking with others, has led many to avoid stammering and find ways of sounding 'normal'.

You may know someone who stammers 'a little', or be surprised to hear that someone you know well tells you that they stammer. Societal expectations mean that people will often try to avoid stammering. They will anticipate speaking situations and plan for them. They may swap a word they expect to stammer on. Or they may keep what they say to the bare minimum. They may arrive late to a meeting to avoid introducing themselves. 

Because stammering has very little visibility in public life, people's reaction when they hear a stammer can take many inappropriate forms, and people often misunderstand why someone appears to stumble when they talk, assuming it's nerves or that the person is drunk or unwell. 

Any questions?

We're here to help. Start a webchat or call our helpline free on 0808 802 0002, both open weekdays 10am-12noon and 6pm-8pm. Or email help@stamma.org

We have information leaflets for you to read and share with others. Download or order physical copies from our Leaflets page.