Word Salad: What It Is and Why It Happens

Older woman talking in word salad

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Word salad is a term used to describe a confused or meaningless mixture of words and phrases when speaking. Word salads can be found in various contexts but are especially common among people with certain mental health conditions or neurological disorders such as schizophrenia ordementia.

Those affected may struggle to communicate their thoughts coherently, leading to sentences that lack logical structure, contain some nonsensical words and phrases, and make little sense overall. Word salads are often accompanied by other symptoms related to the underlying illness and can cause distress for both the speaker and those around them.

Is Word Salad a Thought Disorder?

While word salad can be considered a symptom of a thought disorder that is part of an underlying psychiatric or neurologic condition, it is not itself classified as a diagnosis. Thought disorders are characterized by cognitive disturbances that lead to disorganization in the form and content of language leading to difficulties with communication, problem-solving, and decision-making.

Word Salad Types

Word salad occurs when a person lacks the ability to organize their thoughts into coherent sentences or phrases. Word salads commonly contain words or phrases that are unrelated in meaning, and some may even include made-up words.

While word salad sentences may or may not be grammatically correct, they lack semantic meaning and the end result is that the listener cannot comprehend what is being said. A person engaging in word salad may feel like there is significance to the words they are saying, but in reality, the sentences are meaningless and lack logical structure.


Clanging is a type of word salad where the speaker associates words based on their sound rather than meaning. This can lead to seemingly logical sentences, but with words that are completely unrelated and do not make sense within the context.


Aphasia is a language disorder marked by difficulty speaking and understanding words. Those with a certain type of aphasia may produce word salads due to difficulties in constructing sentences that make sense. Word salads created by those with aphasia tend to contain shorter phrases or strings of words that lack any logical structure.


Logorrhea is a condition characterized by excessive and often incoherent talking. Word salads are common in those with logorrhea as they may experience difficulty organizing words into coherent sentences, leading to streams of unrelated phrases and words that make no sense.

Examples of Word Salad

Word salads are especially common in the following conditions. Those affected may struggle to communicate their thoughts, leading to sentences that contain a mixture of unrelated words or phrases.

Word Salad in Dementia

Below are some examples of word salad in dementia:

  • "Dreams spoke orange sunset"
  • "Spider bubbles flew blue"
  • "Trees screamed broken glass"
  • "Bubbles drink balloons cracker"

Examples of Word Salad in Schizophrenia

Word salad is also a frequent symptom of schizophrenia, in which case it may be called schizophasia. Word salads created by people with schizophrenia can range from short, confused sentences to lengthy streams of unrelated words. Word salad is also common among those who experience psychotic episodes from certain other psychiatric conditions.

Below are some examples of word salad in schizophrenia:

  • “Trees summer… green… I gardening… water hard sun summer set… best time.”
  • "Cars driving... road.... walking... ground level wind past... cold."
  • "Lunch afternoon... table.. eating... newspaper sounds people... "

Word Salad Symptoms

Dr. Jay Serle, LMFT, PhD, notes, "Word salad describes a type of speech that is extremely incoherent. Word salad consists of a mix of unintelligible, random words strung together into phrases. The words may be loosely associated with each other, but they are disconnected from reality and have no meaning to the listener." 

Symptoms of word salad can vary depending on the underlying mental health condition. For example, people with dementia may experience word salad in addition to memory loss, confusion, and disorientation.

Word salads created by those with schizophrenia can be more severe, often containing made-up words or phrases that don’t make any sense. This is often accompanied by other symptoms of the illness including hallucinations and delusions.

Below are some common word salad symptoms:

  • Confused or disoriented speech
  • Excessive use of non-sequiturs or made-up words
  • Incoherent sentences and phrases
  • Unrelated words and phrases in a sentence

Why Does Word Salad Occur?

Word salad occurs when a person’s ability to organize their thoughts and communicate them in a logical, coherent way is impaired. Word salad can be caused by a variety of mental health conditions.

In some cases, word salad can be an effect of a medical condition such as delirium, a medication side effects or drug use. It can also occur due to neurological illnesses such as stroke or brain injury that affect communication.

Below are some of the potential causes of word salad:

  • A disruption in the brain's ability to process and form language
  • An underlying psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder
  • Brain damage caused by a stroke or other brain injury
  • The side effects of some medications
  • Substance use disorders

Treatment for Word Salad

Treatment for word salad depends on the underlying cause. Word salad caused by dementia, for example, may not be treatable, though supportive care and medical interventions can help to manage symptoms.

Word salad caused by psychiatric disorders can be treated with medication or therapy. It’s also important to identify and address any lifestyle factors that may contribute to word salad such as stress.

Below are some potential treatments for word salad:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to help improve symptoms and functioning in patients with psychotic disorders.
  • Medication to manage symptoms of psychiatric disorders or delirium
  • Supportive care and interventions for those with dementia
  • Treatment and prevention of neurological illnesses that may be causing word salad such as stroke or brain injury.

Coping With Word Salad

Natali N. Edmonds, PsyD, ABPP, board-certified geropsychologist notes, "Many people who have this language symptom aren't aware that what they are saying isn't making sense. They may become upset or frustrated when the person listening doesn't seem to be responding or seems confused about what they are saying. in certain cases of dementia, a referral to a speech pathologist for a full language assessment may be helpful in discovering ways to improve communication."

It can be difficult for both those affected by word salad and those around them. For those affected, it is important to stay calm and patient when communicating, as this can help reduce distress.

Below are some other tips for helping someone you know cope with word salad:

  • Be supportive. Show patience and understanding if the person struggles to communicate their thoughts.
  • Patience is key. Allow plenty of time even if word salad is present .Encourage the person to take breaks when needed in order to remain calm and focused on the conversation.
  • Ask simple questions. Position them as ones that require only a yes or no answer to help keep conversations on track.
  • Don't overreact or attempt to correct. Remain calm even if word salad is present, as this can help reduce stress for both the speaker and those around them. Avoid interrupting or correcting the person while they are speaking.
  • Encourage other ways of expression. This can include activities such as writing, drawing, or coloring that can help express thoughts and feelings in more manageable ways.

It is important to seek professional help if word salad is present. This will ensure that any underlying mental health conditions are addressed properly and treated accordingly.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Brown University. The Mental Status Examination.

  2. Sass L, Parnas J. Thought Disorder, Subjectivity, and the Self. Schizophr Bull. 2017 May;43(3):497–502. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbx032

  3. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. What is Aphasia?

  4. Shiba T, Yamakawa M, Endo Y, et al. Communication-related experiences of individuals in the early phase of semantic dementia and their families: an interview studyPsychogeriatrics. doi:10.1111/psyg.12956

  5. National Institute of Mental Health. Schizophrenia.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.