In Judaism, saying G‑d’s name is extremely significant—so significant, in fact, that the third of the Ten Commandments prohibits taking G‑d's name in vain.

Of course, we’re meant to pronounce G‑d's name in prayers and blessings, or when reciting passages from the Scriptures. But if we say the wrong blessing or a blessing that wasn’t warranted, (the rabbis consider it as if) we just said His name in vain.1

So what do we do about that?

The General Fix

If you accidentally said G‑d's name out of context, you would immediately say, "Baruch Shem kevod malchuto le-olam va-ed" ("Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever").2

Why does this help?

According to some opinions, reciting this passage serves as atonement for inadvertently mentioning G‑d's name in vain.3

Others suggest that by reciting this verse, we’re actually retroactively correcting our mistake. By praising G‑d's name immediately after mentioning it, we render our utterance meaningful, since it leads us to show respect and greatness to G‑d's name.4

So if you said the wrong blessing over food and need to make a new one, first say this passage and then recite the correct blessing.5

However, as we’ll see, if you catch yourself early enough when saying the blessing, there are corrective measures that can be taken. And even if you think you said the “wrong” blessing, it may actually be OK, in which case no new blessing is needed.

Catching Yourself in the Middle of an Unwarranted Blessing

Let’s say you begin saying the first words of a blessing and realize that it isn’t necessary to recite that blessing now. If you’ve just said the first three words, “Baruch Atah, Ado-nai,” simply say the two words “lamdeni chukecha. This clever fix means that you’ve just said a complete five-word verse of Psalms6 and did not actually say G‑d’s name in vain.7

If you begin saying “E-lo-hay,” which is the first part of the following word, you can do a similar thing by ending off with “Yisra-el avinu me-olam ve-ad olam.” In this case, you should also say “Baruch shem . . .” afterward.8

If you said the wrong final words of the blessing and corrected your mistake by immediately saying the right ending within a second or two (the time it takes to say the three Hebrew words shalom alecha rebbi), you don't need to repeat the blessing.9

When the “Wrong” Blessing Is Not Wrong

As a general rule, if you say any blessing other than the proper one, another blessing must be said. But there are certain notable exceptions:

Shehakol: This blessing literally thanks G‑d for making everything. So if you mistakenly say Shehakol for any food, it's acceptable, and there's no need for another blessing.10

Ha'adamah: This blessing thanks G‑d for everything that grows from the ground. If you mistakenly said it over a tree fruit, which warrants the blessing Ha'etz, your blessing was acceptable, since even tree fruit ultimately are nourished by the earth.11 (Conversely, if you accidentally said Ha’etz over things that grow from the ground, you need to say “Baruch Shem . . .” and then say the proper blessing.12)

Hagafen: This blessing is normally said over wine, not grapes. But if you accidentally said it over grapes, you’re good to go.13

Wrong After-Blessing

There are three general classes of after-blessings, each with its own rules in this regard:

Birkat Hamazon: This is several paragraphs long and said after eating a meal that contains bread.

Me-en Shalosh: This is a truncated version of Birkat Hamazon, and actually comes in three versions:

  • Al Hamichyah is said after eating food that contains grain (except for bread).
  • Al Hagafen is said after drinking wine or grape juice.
  • Al Ha’etz is said after eating any of the five fruits with which the Land of Israel was blessed: grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date.

Borei Nefashot: This is the very brief catch-all blessing for anything else.

If you accidentally said Borei Nefashot after eating something that warranted any of the longer blessings, the blessing was not valid, so say “Baruch Shem . . .” and then make the correct after-blessing.14

Generally speaking, if you said any version of Me-en Shalosh when it wasn’t warranted, it’s not valid.15 However, there are some exceptions:

  • If you accidentally said Al Hamichya after drinking wine or eating dates, after the fact, the blessing is valid.16
  • If you mistakenly recited Al Hagafen (usually recited after wine) after eating grapes (or raisins), after the fact, the blessing is valid.17
  • If you mistakenly recited Al Ha’etz after wine, you have, after the fact, fulfilled your obligation.18 This is also true if you said Al Ha’etz after ordinary fruits that are not from the Seven Species.19

If you mistakenly recited Birkat Hamazon when it was not warranted, the correct blessing must still be said.20 There are three exceptions: if you said it after drinking wine, eating dates or eating non-bread products made with grain.21

Forgot to Make a Blessing

If you can’t recall if you said the right blessing—or if you said any blessing for that matter— before eating, don’t say one, since the consideration of not saying G‑d’s name in vain overrides the need to say a blessing before eating.22 This also applies to after-blessings, with one exception: if you can’t recall if you said Birkat Hamazon after eating bread, you would say it23 just to be sure.24

Now, what happens if you’re in the middle of a meal and you are sure that you didn’t say the appropriate blessing?

Food: If you realize while you have food in your mouth that you forgot to make a blessing, there are two options: If the food can be removed without being disgusting (like hard candy), take it out, say the blessing, and continue eating. But if you’re eating something that would be repulsive to remove (like meat), push it to the side of your mouth, say the blessing and continue eating.25

According to most opinions, if you realize that you didn’t make a blessing after you’ve already finished eating, you can no longer make the blessing. However, if you have some more of that food (or a different food with the same blessing), you should make a blessing on that food, since there’s a minority opinion that, after the fact, a blessing recited after eating is valid.26

Drink: If you realize while you’re drinking that you forgot to make a blessing, and you have more of the same drink available, spit it out, say the blessing, and then take more of the same drink.27 If you don't have any more to drink, think the words of the blessing in your mind.28