Body Language and Nonverbal Communication Related Vocabulary

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Effective communication goes beyond spoken or written words. It involves a complex mix of facial expressions, body posture, gestures, tone of voice, and even our silences. This article provides a comprehensive guide to the terminology associated with body language and nonverbal communication.

Whether you’re a psychology student, an aspiring actor, a novelist keen on crafting lifelike characters, or simply a curious individual, these words will help you accurately describe and interpret the nonverbal cues we encounter in daily life.

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Table of Contents

1. Facial Expressions

Facial expressions often communicate our emotions more accurately than our words. They’re typically involuntary and universal across cultures.

Word/PhraseMeaning/UsageExample Sentences
FrownA facial expression showing displeasure, usually characterized by a furrowing of one’s brows“John’s frown indicated that he disagreed with the plan.”
GrinA wide smile, often expressing joy or amusement“Sarah’s grin made it clear she was enjoying the party.”
GrimaceAn expression of discomfort or pain“He grimaced as he touched his injured arm.”
SneerA scornful or mocking smile“The bully sneered at the new kid’s outfit.”
ScowlA facial expression of dislike or anger, characterized by a furrowing of the eyebrows“Her scowl was enough to make anyone step back.”
BeamA radiant or good-natured look or smile“He beamed at his daughter’s achievement.”
SmirkA smug, conceited, or silly smile“She smirked when she realized she had won.”
GapeOpen the mouth wide in surprise or wonder“They gaped at the stunning fireworks display.”
FlinchMake a quick, nervous movement as an instinctive reaction to fear or pain“He flinched when the doctor prepared the injection.”
WinceGive a slight involuntary grimace or shrinking movement due to discomfort or pain“She winced as she removed the band-aid.”

2. Eye Movements and Gaze

Our eyes can convey a wealth of information. From showing interest to expressing emotions, eye movements and gaze are powerful nonverbal communication tools.

Word/PhraseMeaning/UsageExample Sentences
Eye ContactWhen two people look directly into each other’s eyes“Maintaining good eye contact during a conversation can demonstrate confidence.”
GlareAn angry or fierce stare“The teacher glared at the disruptive student.”
SquintNarrow one’s eyes slightly so as to see better“He squinted to read the small print on the label.”
Blink RateThe frequency with which someone blinks, often indicative of emotional state or cognitive effort“Nervous individuals often have an increased blink rate.”
StareLook fixedly or vacantly at someone or something“He stared at the painting, trying to understand its meaning.”
WinkClose and open one eye quickly, typically to indicate that something is a joke or a secret“He winked at me, letting me know he was joking.”
GlanceA brief or hurried look“She glanced at her watch, realizing she was late.”
GazeLook steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought“He gazed out the window at the snow-covered landscape.”
Eye RollingThe act of rolling one’s eyes, usually indicating annoyance or disbelief“She rolled her eyes at his terrible joke.”
PeerLook with difficulty or concentration at someone or something“He peered into the darkness, trying to identify the strange noise.”

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3. Posture and Movement

How we hold our bodies and move can communicate a great deal about our attitudes, level of confidence, and current mood.

Word/PhraseMeaning/UsageExample Sentences
SlouchStand, move, or sit in a lazy, drooping way“Don’t slouch in your chair – it’s bad for your back.”
Stand ErectStand up straight“She stood erect, exuding confidence and authority.”
FidgetMake small movements, especially of the hands and feet, through nervousness or impatience“He began to fidget, a clear sign of his nervousness.”
SwaggerWalk or behave in a very confident and typically arrogant or aggressive way“He swaggered into the room, full of self-importance.”
ShrugRaise one’s shoulders slightly and momentarily to express doubt, ignorance, or indifference“When asked about the incident, he just shrugged.”
GesticulateUse gestures, especially dramatic ones, instead of speaking or to emphasize one’s words“She was gesticulating wildly during her animated conversation.”
SlumpSit, lean, or fall heavily and limply“After a long day, he slumped onto the couch.”
LeanIncline or bend from a vertical position“She leaned against the wall, listening to the music.”
StoopBend one’s head or body forward and downward“He stooped to pick up the pen.”
PaceWalk at a steady speed, especially back and forth and as an expression of one’s anxiety or annoyance“He paced the room, waiting for the call.”

4. Touch

Touch, or tactile communication, can convey numerous emotions between people, such as comfort, love, and empathy.

Word/PhraseMeaning/UsageExample Sentences
PatTouch quickly and gently with the flat of the hand“She patted the dog’s head affectionately.”
StrokeMove one’s hand with gentle pressure over (a surface, especially hair, fur, or skin), typically repeatedly“He stroked his beard thoughtfully.”
HandshakeA traditional greeting or expression of agreement in which two people grasp each other’s right hands and move them up and down“A firm handshake can leave a positive impression.”
HugHold (someone) closely in one’s arms, typically as a sign of affection“She gave her friend a comforting hug.”
Hold handsWhen two people hold each other’s hands“The couple held hands as they walked along the beach.”
SlapHit or strike with the palm of the hand or a flat object“He slapped the mosquito on his arm.”
PinchGrasp (something) tightly and sharply between finger and thumb“She pinched her nose to avoid the unpleasant smell.”
SqueezeFirmly press (something soft or yielding), typically with one’s fingers“She squeezed his hand reassuringly.”
PunchStrike with the fist“He was so angry that he punched the wall.”
TapStrike (something) lightly, typically with a metal object“He tapped his fingers on the desk, impatiently waiting for the meeting to start.”

5. Voice and Tone

Our voice tone, pitch, volume, and speed of speech are also part of nonverbal communication, adding context to our words.

Word/PhraseMeaning/UsageExample Sentences
WhisperSpeak very softly using one’s breath rather than one’s throat, especially for the sake of privacy“He whispered the secret in her ear.”
ShoutSay something very loudly“She had to shout to be heard over the noise.”
MumbleSay something indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to hear“He mumbled something under his breath.”
SighEmit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar“She sighed with relief when she heard the good news.”
GiggleLaugh lightly and repeatedly in a silly way, from amusement, nervousness, or embarrassment“They giggled at the awkward comment.”
GroanMake a deep inarticulate sound in response to pain or despair“He groaned when he saw the amount of work left to do.”
StutterTalk with continued involuntary repetition of sounds, especially initial consonants“He had a slight stutter which became more pronounced when he was nervous.”
ExclaimCry out suddenly, especially in surprise, anger, or pain“She exclaimed in delight when she saw the surprise.”
GruntA low, guttural sound made by an animal or a person“He grunted in acknowledgment when his name was called.”
RoarUtter a full, deep, prolonged cry, typically in pain or anger“He roared with laughter at the joke.”

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Situation: In a park, Sarah, a psychologist, and Chris, a theater director, discuss the significance of body language in conveying emotions and intentions.

Sarah: Chris, I’ve always believed that nonverbal cues play a critical role in communication. It’s fascinating how an eyebrow raise or a simple shoulder shrug can convey so much.

Chris: Absolutely, Sarah. In theater, actors heavily rely on gestures and facial expressions to bring their characters to life. A fidget or a prolonged gaze can tell a story without words.

Sarah: Indeed. In psychology, we often study posture and stance to understand a person’s confidence level or state of mind. For instance, someone who crosses their arms might be defensive or closed off.

Chris: That’s insightful. When directing, I emphasize the importance of proxemics – the use of space. How close or far an actor stands from another can signify intimacy, aggression, or indifference.

Sarah: And don’t get me started on tone of voice. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it that matters. A soft whisper can be more impactful than a shout.


Understanding nonverbal communication and body language is a vital skill in human interaction. Whether interpreting the silent messages sent by facial expressions or becoming more aware of our nonverbal cues, a comprehensive understanding of this field can significantly improve our ability to communicate effectively.

This list of terms is just the beginning – as with any language, fluency comes from practice and observation. So, watch, learn, and communicate.

1. What are nonverbal cues?

Nonverbal cues are signals or behaviors, other than spoken words, that communicate messages and emotions. They include facial expressions, gestures, posture, and tone of voice.

2. How do gestures differ from facial expressions?

Gestures are movements made with the body, especially hands and arms, to convey an idea or emotion. In contrast, facial expressions involve movements and configurations of the face to show feelings.

3. Why is posture significant in communication?

Posture, or the way one stands or sits, can convey confidence, attentiveness, or even disinterest. It provides insight into a person’s feelings and attitudes.

4. What does it mean when someone crosses their arms?

When someone crosses their arms, it can indicate defensiveness, discomfort, or a closed-off attitude. However, context is essential, as it might also signify coldness or just a comfortable resting position.

5. How does proxemics impact communication?

Proxemics refers to the use and perception of one’s personal and interpersonal space. The distance between communicators can indicate levels of intimacy, comfort, or dominance.

6. Why is tone of voice crucial in understanding messages?

Tone of voice adds an emotional layer to spoken words. It can change the meaning of a statement, indicating sarcasm, sincerity, anger, or affection.

7. What does a prolonged gaze convey?

A prolonged gaze or extended eye contact can signify various emotions, including interest, attraction, challenge, or even hostility, depending on the context.

8. How does fidgeting affect perception in communication?

Fidgeting, or making small movements due to nervousness or impatience, can convey discomfort, anxiety, or restlessness.

9. What role does a whisper play in communication?

A whisper, or soft-spoken voice, can imply secrecy, intimacy, or a need for discretion. It can also convey urgency or caution in certain situations.

10. Are all nonverbal cues universally understood?

No, cultural differences can influence the interpretation of nonverbal cues. What’s considered polite or rude in one culture might be perceived differently in another.

Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 8 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."

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