Difference Between Verbal & Nonverbal Communication

Updated April 17, 2017

There are two ways in which people communicate: verbally and nonverbally. The primary difference between verbal and nonverbal communication is that verbal communication is auditory, as spoken language must be heard to be understood. Most forms of nonverbal communication, on the other hand, rely on the sense of sight. In fact, much of the communication between people is actually nonverbal, including eye contact, facial expressions and body language.

Verbal Communication

Before an infant learns how to talk, he communicates verbally through crying, laughing, cooing and other sounds that parents come to recognise as signifying different meanings. As we grow older, we learn to use language, which clarifies the meaning of the message the user is trying to communicate. There are more than 3,000 languages and dialects throughout the world, yet verbal communication is rife with subtleties. The spoken word is augmented by such factors as the speaker's vocal inflection and accent, which can provide the listener with information such as the speaker's nationality and social standing, or whether the intent is straightforward or sarcastic.

The Written Word

Archaeologists believe humans have been communicating verbally for anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 years, but the earliest examples of writing only date back to about 6,000 years ago. The earliest forms of writing were ancient pictograms in Egypt and Mesopotamia, which eventually evolved into hieroglyphics. Writing is a form of communication that is used throughout the world in thousands of different languages. Another nonverbal form of communication is Braille writing, which uses a series of raised dots as the letters of the alphabet. People without the sense of sight can read Braille using their fingertips.


People often communicate with gestures, even though they may not be aware of it. Shrugging your shoulders or shaking your head may be automatic responses, but they can convey a message just as clearly as an intentional gesture such as waving goodbye. Gestures, however, are only effective as a rudimentary form of nonverbal communication, and cannot relay the same level of detail as verbal or written language.

Body Language

According to the website Help Guide, we often communicate better with our body language than we do with words. Body language can either contradict or reinforce what is being communicated verbally. In this regard, body language can be a more accurate reflection of a person's true intent than his words. Body language can play five key roles: repeating the speaker's verbal message, contradicting the verbal message, substituting a different message for the verbal message, complementing the verbal message or accenting the verbal message.

American Sign Language

American Sign Language is a complex language that combines precise hand gestures with body movements, facial expressions and body postures. Typically used by hearing-impaired people, American Sign Language is the fourth-most-commonly used language in the U.S. Where written language uses punctuation, a person communicating verbally will use a tone of voice to indicate a sentence is a question. In American Sign Language, the communicator achieves the same effect by raising eyebrows and widening eyes, which indicates a question.

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