Make Your Editor Cry: Aural vs. Oral vs. Verbal

Make Your Editor Cry:  Aural vs. Oral vs. Verbal

Aural only ever refers to the ear or hearing, and oral only ever refers to the mouth or speaking. Something verbal is something expressed in words, regardless of whether those words are spoken or written.

Listen to the aural sensations of songs from outer space once you’ve been anesthetized for some oral surgery. Then stay non-verbal because you can’t use words for a long time after the dentist wakes you up.

Aural is related to the sense of hearing. If you have excellent aural abilities, it means that your ears work well. Aural means “pertaining to hearing.”

Remember: if it’s related to the ear or hearing, you want aural. If it’s related to something spoken or to the mouth, it’s oral. And although verbal can mean spoken or written, oral can only ever mean spoken.

Correct:

If you enjoy a 5.1 surround sound system, the aural experience of a 9.2 system will amaze you.

One third of my grade depended upon my oral report but I hate public speaking.

Incorrect:

If you enjoy a 5.1 surround sound system, the oral experience of a 9.2 system will amaze you.

One third of my grade depended upon my aural report but I hate public speaking.

Oral, refers to something spoken (rather than written) or something related to the mouth. The word oral only ever means having to do with the mouth or speaking. When you give an oral report in school, you stand in front of the class and talk.

Now what about oral vs. verbal? They both relate to something expressed through words, but oral is spoken and verbal can be spoken or written. If your friend tells you that the speech you just made was really verbal, he means you used too many words, overstated the point, went on too long, were redundant. Oral and verbal are often used interchangeably — both describe spoken words after all. But they’re not always interchangeable. If your little sister sticks everything in her mouth, she has an oral fixation. If she can recite the Constitution by age two, she’s quite verbal.

Consider these examples from articles about college basketball:

K-State basketball gets oral commitment from 7-footer Diaz. (Wichita Eagle)

Gipson is Kansas State's second verbal commitment. (Fox Sports)

In these examples, Diaz told K-State he’d join the team by speaking it aloud. He didn’t sign any paperwork or write anything down. But Gipson could have written or signed to make his commitment, or he might have just spoken his commitment.

Either is correct:

The written instructions were clearly not written by a native English speaker.

The verbal instructions were clearly not written by a native English speaker.

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