rub [intransitive, transitive] to move your hand, or something such as a cloth, backwards and forwards over a surface while pressing firmly → stroke

rub your nose/chin/eyes/forehead etc

She yawned and rubbed her eyes.

rub something with something

She began rubbing her hair with a towel.

You’ll have to rub harder if you want to get it clean.

I hurriedly rubbed myself dry.

the definition of the verb rub is "to move your hand, or something such as a cloth, backwards and forwards over a surface while pressing firmly"

Now if I take "backwards and forwards" out of the definition, it will become "to move your hand, or something such as a cloth, over a surface while pressing firmly"

Do we have a verb to express it?

For example, "I want to get a massage, could you + "the verb (that expresses the above meaning" + all the way along my spine"

  • Maybe use the verbs stroke or brush with an adjective? And shouldn't it be "all the way down my spine"? Mar 3, 2020 at 5:36
  • Or you could ask "Could you massage me along the spine, please?" Mar 3, 2020 at 5:37
  • Or you could say "Could you knead my spine, please?" although it doesn't imply movement it does pressure. Mar 3, 2020 at 5:40
  • Stroke: "to move your hand gently over a surface" but I need "firmly". "Knead" doesn't move the hand from 1 point to another. "Massage" is "to rub and press" could be ok but it moves back and forward in 2 opposite directions. Do we have a word that is similar to "rub" but "move just 1 direction not back and forward".
    – Tom
    Mar 3, 2020 at 5:47
  • Reread my first comment. I doubt there exists a single-word verb form for that. Maybe a phrasal verb does, but I know of none. Mar 3, 2020 at 6:07

1 Answer 1


"Rub" is the simplest word. It would often, but not always, be associated with a "forwards and back" motion. A single motion, or repeated motions in the same direction, could also be described as rubbing.

I can't think of a situation in which you would need to specify "... and not forwards and back". If someone is rubbing your back for a massage they don't have to go forwards and back, but it is possible. If it is important you just specify:

Could you rub my back (from top to bottom).

It sounds odd, because usually it is the masseur that decides exactly which direction to rub.

Otherwise a more specific verb, describing the purpose of the action.

In your example you could say "Could you massage my back". You would not have to repeat the word massage, so your expression is simpler. Similarly if you want to rub the table to make it shine you could use "polish the table". There are lots of other similar verbs, that are related to specific purposes (knead, grind, sand and so on)

So while there doesn't seem to be an exact word for you, I don't think this is a problem. Just use "rub".

  • I think that “scrape” suggests that the gesture goes in only one direction
    – djs
    Jul 30, 2021 at 12:01
  • 'To scrape' is a less gentle motion than 'to rub'. Scraping implies removing something from the surface being touched, for example removing some skin from your leg, some paint from a car, or some food from a dirty dish or pan. You can scrape something back and forth, and you can also rub something in one direction.
    – dwilli
    Dec 14, 2021 at 6:28

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