What is the difference between the words verbal and oral? I am confused a lot about these words and I would be grateful for your effort if you try to write about the difference.

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    Can you quote some dictionary entries you checked and explain why they're still confusing? – Nathan Tuggy Jul 1 '15 at 21:20
  • oral quiz and verbal quiz what is the difference – Naser Marzog Jul 1 '15 at 21:49
  • @NaserMarzog Though oral and verbal can overlap, they don't always mean the same thing. When they're used with quiz, "verbal quiz" will focus on words (as in Sander's answer), whereas "oral quiz" will be spoken. I'd recommend learning about collocation. A well-known example is strong and powerful. Though both mean about the same, we don't say *powerful tea, we say strong tea. On the other hand, we don't say *strong computers, we say powerful computers. – Damkerng T. Jul 2 '15 at 1:30
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    Please don't cross-post. The EL&U question Orally or Verbally may be helpful. – choster Jul 2 '15 at 1:47

The distinction between the two terms is as follows:

Verbal applies to everything that is turned into words. It doesn't matter if these are written words or spoken ones.

Oral, on the other hand, has nothing to do with written words. In the context of language it refers to anything that is spoken. In other context it can also refer to things that are related to the mouth or the way certain medication is taken (oral medication = medication taken via the mouth).

Normally, verbal is not used to refer to spoken text, even though it can. In this case it is better to use oral instead to more clear.

Simply put:

  • Verbal = words, written and spoken

  • Oral = anything spoken

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  • sory but i didn't understand you can you explain it using simpler words – Naser Marzog Jul 1 '15 at 21:50
  • I put a simplified explanation at the bottom of my answer – Vlammuh Jul 1 '15 at 21:54
  • In long man dictionary verbal means spoken rather than writing and oral mean spoken not written so what is the difference – Naser Marzog Jul 1 '15 at 22:54
  • @Sander It might be good to clarify that verbal can take the same meaning as oral in some contexts. Your answer only gives the most common meaning of the two words. – Aaron Brown Jul 1 '15 at 23:57

I think your confusion is caused by the definition #3 from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language of the word verbal:

  1. Expressed in spoken rather than written words; oral: a verbal contract.


This may seem like a morass, but don't despair. Avoiding this accident of style is easier than you may think. Just remember that oral refers to spoken words, written refers to written words, and verbal refers to anything expressed in words, whether spoken or written.

(Charles Harrington Elster, The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly. St. Martin's Press, 2010).

In other words, the adjective oral means pertaining to speech or to the mouth).

The adjective verbal means pertaining to words, whether written or spoken (though verbal is sometimes treated as a synonym for oral).

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  • In long man dictionary verbal means spoken rather than writing and oral mean spoken not written so what is the difference – Naser Marzog Jul 1 '15 at 22:55
  • If you were supposed to learn my language I could have understood your confusion since verbal means always oral verba volant, scripta manem. But English is different, only in some specific instances verbal means oral. However, oral doesn’t always mean verbal. When referring to mouth you use oral: pills orally taken not verbally. – Lucian Sava Jul 2 '15 at 4:04

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