Phatic communication is verbal or non-verbal communication that has a social function, such as to start a conversation, greet someone, or say goodbye, rather than an informative function.

Two people greeting each other with a handshake

Learners sometimes find it difficult to recognise phatic communication. For example, a learner may interpret the American English phatic structure ‘What's up?' as a question that needs an answer.

Waving hello is non-verbal phatic communication and saying ‘How's it going?' is verbal.

In the classroom
To explore phatics, learners can analyse the verbal and non-verbal phatic communication from a video extract, and then prepare new dialogues with more examples.

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