Let's say I am standing about five feet away from another person and then I started talking to him, could I write this:

I made contact with him.

to describe the situation?

Does "make contact" require a long distance between the two people, or does it allow for talking to a stranger at a close distance?


At distances farther than is typical in a normal face-to-face exchange, people will often make eye contact and then move closer in order to talk. If you just started talking to him, and remained at that distance, you'd probably just say, you started talking. You may have also gotten his attention and then started talking.


You don't even have to stand close to someone to make contact. For example, you could make contact by telephone or by email.

What's more important is that making contact means to communicate with someone who you hadn't previously communicated with, or who you haven't communicated with for a considerable time, or when there was some barrier to communicating.


Let me improve my expalanation.

Literally, contact means physically touching something. But we also use it figuratively to talk about having a way of communicating with them even without touching them.

Being in contact with someone means having an established means of communicating with them, whether by phone, email, mail, carrier pigeon, meeting them at a certain pub on Friday afternoons, or whatever. Making contact means establishing this means of communication when it hadn't been established before, or if there's a possibility it's no longer effective. For example, by writing someone an email for the first time or by calling someone you haven't called in a long time.

How far apart you are does not matter when using this meaning of the word. You could be a physically touching each other, you could be on different planets, or anything in between, including "several feet away".

It could be anything from

Agent 9 spotted Agent 7 on the Moscow subway and made contact by standing next to her and tapping out a morse code message on her shoe.


The invention of the hyperspace laser in 2215 AD finally allowed humanity to make contact with the aliens of the Andromeda galaxy.

  • So, "make contact with someone" should only refer to emailing someone or calling someone on the phone?
    – meatie
    Dec 22 '14 at 23:07
  • 1
    @meatie, Read what I wrote in my answer: "an established means of communicating with them, whether by phone, email, mail, carrier pigeon, meeting them at a certain pub on Friday afternoons, or whatever."
    – The Photon
    Dec 22 '14 at 23:53
  • My question is motivated by how some news articles routinely use the phrase "make contact" to describe situations where a police officer walks up to a parked car and talk to the driver inside. Maybe such usages are journalistic slang?
    – meatie
    Dec 23 '14 at 0:04
  • @meatie -- In the military, a group of soldiers "establishes contact" with an enemy when they come close enough to fight, and one side is aware of the other. Depending on the weapons available, this could be a few yards (for stealthy troops in a deep jungle) to a couple miles (for tanks). Your example (from news articles) is probably a similar police usage of the phrase. A military unit "breaks contact" by retreating far enough that fighting is no longer possible.
    – Jasper
    Dec 23 '14 at 0:22
  • @meatie -- From the point of view of an army (which is usually much bigger than a single person), "making contact" means the armies are touching. (Even if the individuals are only close enough for a cavalry charge, or within rifle-shot distance, or within the range of a tank's main gun.)
    – Jasper
    Dec 23 '14 at 0:31

"Make contact" has three main meanings.

  • One is "physically touch". If the context assumes that you were in the same room (or outdoor space) with someone, then you should only say you "contacted" them if you physically touched. (It does not have to be skin-to-skin contact. It is OK if clothes are in the way.) If you are talking about whether electrical wires are in contact, the contact needs to be electrical conductor to electrical conductor.

  • The second meaning is "interact with someone using words or touch." If the context is "a list of people that you have seen, e-mailed, or spoken to", then it is OK to include a person with whom you shared mutual recognition and a few words (even if you were standing a few feet apart) in that list of people you contacted.

  • The third meaning is used in the phrase "eye contact". "Eye contact" is when you look someone in the eyes, and they look you in the eyes at the same time, and you are both aware that you are looking at each other. In most people, this causes each of y'all to think about what the other person is thinking. (You might guess wrong about what they are thinking, but there is a part of your brain dedicated to making these guesses.)

ThePhoton's answer reminds me of AT&T's old slogan, "Reach out and touch someone." The point of AT&T's ads was that a long-distance call let you whisper in someone's ear (make virtual contact) despite being 50 (or even 5,000) miles away.

  • So, "make contact with someone" should only refer to emailing someone or calling someone on the phone?
    – meatie
    Dec 22 '14 at 23:08
  • 1
    @meatie -- No. The first two items in my answer describe situations where you "make contact with someone".
    – Jasper
    Dec 23 '14 at 0:19

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