I'm making up a children's vocabulary handout in the form of a quiz. The children work in pairs, A and B, they must ask each other questions and the guess the right answer. The definitions have to be brief and easy for Italian 7 to 9 year-olds to understand and say. One of the questions is the following

It's a hand action you do / make / give when you say “hello” or “goodbye”

The answer (which can also be mimed) could be "shake" but it doesn't match the answer in the handout, and in the hints section, the clue reads: "It begins with the letter ‘W’"

Should I write "it's a hand action you make" or "It's a hand action you do"? We can also give a wave to someone, so should I use that verb instead?

Which of the three verbs in bold fits the best and sounds the most natural?

  • I would recommend putting "gesture" and then putting "hand action" in parentheses. You shouldn't be teaching your students that "hand action" is idiomatic English. – Acccumulation Apr 5 '18 at 14:42
  • It's something you do with your hand when you say hello or goodbye. – Kevin Apr 5 '18 at 15:32

In the context of your exercise, I would choose the word make. The tricky part is explaining why.

I believe it sounds most natural because that’s the verb most closely associated with the word gestures. I know that ngrams don’t prove anything, but they can sometimes support our hunches – which is what happened in this case:

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EDIT - Even after substituting "hand action" for "gesture", I still prefer make out of your three available options – although I'll concede it's a thornier problem. I very much agree that, generally speaking, we make gestures and we do actions; however, I think it's the noun phrase hand action that has me leaning more toward make than do.

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    In this context, make is what Otto Jespersen called a light verb – a verb which is semantically "light", making its complement noun phrase do the heavy lifting in terms of meaning. English has a bunch of light verbs, and there's no particular reason for the choice of one over another; in English you give a kiss, take a shower, make a mistake, and do your homework, but in another language the choice of light verbs is likely to be completely different. So I think that you just have to memorize it. – user230 Apr 5 '18 at 11:08
  • The noun I'm using is "action", and I feel that "someone does an action" rather than "makes an action" sounds more idiomatic. – Mari-Lou A Apr 5 '18 at 11:35
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    @Mari-LouA "gesture" would be the most common way to express "hand action". If you're absolutely adverse to making that replacement then I agree "do an action" seems more idiomatic than "make an action" – Kamil Drakari Apr 5 '18 at 13:26
  • You could also "perform an action" (even though you wouldn't normally "perform a wave"). – BowlOfRed Apr 5 '18 at 17:21

If I type the following possible verb phrases in the search engine of Google, give is the only one that doesn't fit in any sentence. Here are some sentences that were found:

to make a hand action

If participants learn to make a hand action every time they see a foot action, and to make a foot action every time they see a hand action... (it's too fishy, I think the verb here signifies a special action)

Evocation of motor representations during sentence comprehension was examined by training subjects to make a hand action in response to a visual cue while listening to a sentence. (from the Journal Memory and Language, 2008)

As for this two, this version is plausible.

to do a hand action

They all escaped - you can do a hand action or say magic words, or get the other person to do something before lifting each card off one by one. (here it is about a card game)

In Curse of Monkey Island the mini-interface looked like a coin and allowed you to examine the object, do a mouth action on the object, or do a hand action on the object. (now we have a PC game, Gilbert Goodmate and the Mushroom of Phungoria)

Here it can be inferred that make seems to be the best solution to pick a verb out of the three.

Concerning to give a wave to somebody, if you want to be more precise (for a hand action can also relate to a smack in the face, or, as you said, a shake), you can use this nice verb phrase.

  • The answer could never be "smack" because in the definition it specifically mentions that you perform (ha!) this hand action when you say "hello" or "goodbye". I was thinking of a handshake or to shake someone's hand. – Mari-Lou A Apr 5 '18 at 12:08

Why use any the phrase verb + action at all? Or, if you do, why not say: do this. Hand action sounds like an education-speak and not what would actually be in the quiz for kids. Of course, "do an action" is the right phrase but not in the actual quiz sentence....in my opinion.

Sentence suggestions: It's a gesture for "Hello" or "Goodbye".

Or: You do this to say "Hello" or "Goodbye". [I prefer this one.]

I don't know if this is worth putting in as an answer....gestures are by definition "hand gestures".

It is true, I did see this: 2 Play track 1. Children listen, and do the correct actions when they hear Hello or Goodbye.

do an action

  • It's a valid point about gesture, but I wanted to include "hand" and "action" which I feel are both higher frequency words. I'm trying to pack as much as I can without overloading my privates. And for some unknown reason the verb "wave" is never taught at junior schools. Wavy (hair) yes, but not wave. – Mari-Lou A Apr 5 '18 at 13:03
  • And in Italy, we often hug or kiss people when we say hello or goodbye, so just gesture alone creates too many variables. – Mari-Lou A Apr 5 '18 at 13:06
  • Typically, exercises don't include pedagogy lingo. Is your target vocabulary actually the phrase: hand action? – Lambie Apr 5 '18 at 13:11
  • No. It's "wave" plus a whole bunch of other vocab. – Mari-Lou A Apr 5 '18 at 13:13
  • @Mari-LouA The hugs-and-kisses thing is not just Italian....Plus, I would not call a hug or kiss a gesture in English. – Lambie Apr 5 '18 at 13:13

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