Caressing, patting and elbowing: verbs for touching and hitting (1)

a woman lies on the floor and caresses two small dogs that are sleeping on a circular cushion
Kohei Hara/DigitalVision/GettyImages

by Liz Walter

There are an incredible number of verbs that express the concept of touching or hitting someone or something, and they can have very different connotations, from caressing (touching in a very gentle and loving way) right through to punching (hitting someone or something very hard with a closed hand):

She gently caressed the baby as she rocked him in her arms.

The argument got very heated, and then someone punched him in the face!

In this post, I will cover a range of useful verbs for a variety of situations while the next one will focus on hitting things or people with force, often with the intention of damaging or hurting them.

I will start with some verbs for gentle actions. When we stroke someone or something, we use long gentle movements of our hand over their surface, and if we pat them, we touch them several times with our hands flat. Both of these verbs are commonly used to talk about touching pets but can also be used for other situations:

He was stroking a long-haired cat.

She patted his shoulder affectionately.

There are several touching and hitting verbs connected to specific parts of the body. If you nudge someone, you push them gently with your elbow, usually to get their attention or encourage them to do something. If you drum your fingers, you hit them against a surface to make a noise, if you crack your head on/against something, you hit it sharply on that thing, and if you stub your toe, you hurt it by hitting it against a hard object:

Paul nudged me and I quickly stood up.

She waited impatiently, drumming her fingers on the table.

He stood up and cracked his head on the cabinet door.

I slipped and stubbed my toe against the table leg.

In addition, the body parts finger, elbow and knee are used as verbs themselves:

She absently fingered the envelope in her pocket.

He elbowed me in the ribs as he pushed past.

The man kneed him in the back and pushed him to the ground.

I will finish with a couple of miscellaneous verbs. If you handle something, you pick it up and touch it or move it, and if you flick something, you hit it quickly with the ends of your fingers, usually in order to move it:

You should wash your hands before you handle food.

She flicked her pen across the table.

If you found these verbs useful, look out for my next post, on words for touching and hitting things and people hard.

13 thoughts on “Caressing, patting and elbowing: verbs for touching and hitting (1)

  1. When I think about patting and stroking:

    there is another word which comes in between them.


    Elisa: I agree about being careful about fingering – and elbowing and kneeing.

    A saying to end with:

    “He likes being held – I find he dislikes [or disprefers] being handled”.

    [some of the implications there about people and animals and dignity and decency].

    FHK: Tapping is another good word.

    I also find myself flicking off the plastic covering from the newspaper when it is wrapped.

    [and wrapped and rapped and rapt are three more “touching” words].

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