Tender, velvety or abrasive? Talking about textures (1)

a woman's manicured hands stroking soft, dark blue velvet cloth
Maryna Terletska/Moment/GettyImages

by Liz Walter

Today’s post focuses on the texture of things: in other words, the way they feel.

One of the most common times we talk about texture is when we are describing food, as the way it feels in the mouth is central to our enjoyment (or otherwise!) of eating. For example, we usually prefer meat to be tender and not tough, apples to be crisp and granola to be crunchy:

The chicken was beautifully tender.

They gave us a few chunks of tough meat floating in gravy.

Use a crisp lettuce for this salad.

The cake contained satisfyingly crunchy pieces of walnut.

Of course, we want different textures in different foods. For instance, chewy might be a compliment when applied to a cookie, but is unlikely to be a good thing if it is applied to meat:

Add more syrup if you prefer a chewier cookie.

Unfortunately, the steak was very chewy.

There are several adjectives for describing texture that come from names of fabrics. For example, something that is soft, smooth and often shiny could be described as silky or satiny, or simply as smooth as silk/satin, while a velvety texture is soft to feel. These words often have connotations of luxury:

She had clear skin and silky hair.

The texture of the truffles is as smooth as silk.

The addition of cream gives the soup a velvety texture.

Something cottony is thick and light with lots of air, while leathery is usually a negative description of something that feels tough:

The sky was full of cottony clouds.

His skin was leathery from years working at sea.

Something furry is soft like the fur of an animal, while something fuzzy has a slightly less soft feel and is more like very short fur. Fluffy can either describe something that feels like long, soft fur or something such as beaten egg white that is light with lots of air:

The inside of the coat was warm and furry.

The leaves on this plant have a fuzzy feel.

We slept soundly on the fluffy pillows.

The fabric adjectives above gave us several words for smooth objects, and there are lots for the opposite. The most common opposite of smooth is rough. Something coarse is also rough, often containing small pieces. Something so rough that it can scratch something is scratchy or, rather more formally, abrasive:

The sheets were made from rough cloth.

Grind the almonds to a coarse texture.

The shirt was rather scratchy.

Scrub all the surfaces with an abrasive pad.

Things with uneven surfaces could be described as lumpy, bumpy, or knobbly (mainly UK English)/knobby (US English). A textured surface has a raised pattern on it:

The mattress was rather lumpy.

We cycled along some bumpy roads.

I picked up a knobbly/knobby stick.

We used a textured wallpaper.

Finally, something jagged is rough with sharp and often uneven points, while something serrated, especially a knife, has a row of sharp points on its edge:

He cut his feet on the jagged rocks.

The knife had a serrated edge.

If you found this post useful, look out for the next one, which will concentrate on adjectives that describe how hard or soft things are.

13 thoughts on “Tender, velvety or abrasive? Talking about textures (1)

  1. Pierre

    Very detailed and contextualized through exemples easy to remember.
    Thank you for that one . I any way read every posts from you . They are all the time on purpose.
    Thank you for the time you spend making the effort .
    Pierre the frog ! 🐸🇫🇷

  2. Irina

    Hello, thank you for the article (useful as usual:))
    Could I ask you to explain what you meant by “Something such as beaten egg white that is light with lots of air”. If egg white is beaten, how can it have air? Or did you refer to its colour? This comparison got me confused. Thank you!

    1. Denis

      Hi Irina,
      Let me help you with that.
      It’s fair to assume that this discription has hothing to do with colour. It’s my feeling, when you beat egg white using a whisk, you get a substance that looks like a thick mass of tiny bubbles, a substance that is sort of like cream that is filled with very small bubbles of air, if you know what I mean. So this type of substance can be desribed as fluffy, which basicaly means light and full of air. For instance, you can say a sentance like this: ‘Beat the eggs and sugar together until they are fluffy.’

      I hope that helps. 🙂

    1. Denis

      No sweat. 🙂
      To add to that, think of thick foam (a mass of very small bubbles formed on the surface of a liquid), it can also be described as fluffy.

      Best wishes

  3. Lana

    I always try to keep in my mind even the tiniest piece of information taken from Cambridge Dictionary. The articles are exemplary.

Leave a Reply