English Language


Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Impact of Expressive Language: Discovering the Power of Speech Acts

Do you consider yourself expressive? How do you convey your feelings? Some may use fashion, art, music, or dance, but the most influential way to express ourselves is through the words we speak – what experts call 'speech acts'.

But what exactly is a speech act?

A speech act is a statement with a specific purpose. Every time we talk, we are also performing an action. These actions, known as illocutionary acts, can be categorized into five types: assertive, directive, commissive, expressive, and declarative.

So, what are expressive words in the English language?

Expressive verbs are words used to perform a particular speech act. They are used to convey both positive and negative situations, with emphasis on the listener. These verbs are more precise than common verbs, as they express specific actions.

According to researchers Searle and Vanderveken (1985)¹, some examples of expressive verbs include:

  • Apologizing
  • Consoling
  • Congratulating
  • Lamenting
  • Praising
  • Greeting
  • Welcoming

These words are used to convey various speech acts. For example, the statement "Oops, sorry, I didn't see you there" is an apology.

But what are some other ways to express ourselves?

The adjective 'expressive' has a similar meaning to 'expressive speech acts.' Some synonyms for 'expressive' are:

  • Meaningful
  • Revealing
  • Demonstrative
  • Eloquent
  • Telling
  • Emotional
  • Suggestive
  • Passionate

But what exactly is an expressive person?

An expressive person is someone who uses expressive language, often through speech acts. Let's take a closer look at these actions.

Can we define 'expressive speech acts'?

Expressive speech acts are statements that convey the speaker's emotions and feelings about themselves and their surroundings. Depending on the situation, different expressions can be used to communicate various emotions.

So, what are the different types of expressive speech acts?

According to renowned psycholinguist Herbert Clark (1996)², there are four main types of expressive speech acts, which include:

  • Thanking
  • Apologizing
  • Congratulating
  • Greeting

Let's delve into each of these in more detail.

Examples of Expressive Speech Acts


The act of thanking is a way to express gratitude and show kindness and respect to the listener. It lets the listener know that the speaker appreciates their actions.

  • "Thank you for helping me out with my work"
  • "Thank you very much for my birthday present!"
  • "Thank you for thinking of me, I really appreciate it"


The act of apologizing involves expressing regret for a wrongdoing and acknowledging any offense caused. It is a way to take responsibility for one's actions.

  • "I'm sorry for shouting at you."
  • "I'm sorry for hurting your feelings, I didn't mean to upset you."
  • "I apologize for getting angry, it will not happen again."

However, an apology can also be used to express sympathy, for example, "I'm sorry for your loss" in a situation of grief.


The act of congratulating is a positive expression used to praise or celebrate someone's success. It is a way to wish them happiness and acknowledge their accomplishments.

  • "Congratulations on your engagement!"
  • "Congratulations on passing your exams!"
  • "Congratulations on your new job!"


The act of greeting involves welcoming or acknowledging someone.

  • "Hey, it's lovely to see you"
  • "Welcome! Please come in"
  • "Morning, how's it going?"

There has been extensive research on the different types of expressive speech acts. American linguist Neal Norrick (1978) explored the idea that expressives can be divided into positive or negative and identified nine types of expressive acts, including thanking, apologizing, congratulating, and greeting.

Through expressive speech acts, we can effectively convey our emotions and communicate with others on a deeper level. Whether it's through thanking, apologizing, congratulating, or greeting, the power of language is never to be underestimated.

The Impact of Language: Unleashing the Power of Expressive Verbs

Within the realm of language, lies a set of words known as "expressive verbs" that hold the ability to evoke strong emotions and sentiments when used. These verbs have the ability to shape and enhance our communication with others. Let's delve deeper into these expressive verbs and their influential uses.

The Sympathetic Condolence

Condoling is the act of expressing sorrow and sympathy towards a negative event or loss. It is often used as an opposite to congratulating and is commonly seen at funerals or during moments of grief.

Example: "I extend my sincerest condolences for your loss."

Reprimanding and Censuring

Deploring or censoring refers to admonishing someone for their actions or words. It serves as a way to bring their attention to the fact that their behavior is unacceptable, often leading to an apology being offered.

Examples: "Your constant disruption is disrupting everyone's concentration."

"Your words are offensive and should not be used."

Expressing Frustration and Regret

Lamenting is the act of expressing regret or frustration towards negative events in one's life. These events can be caused by one's own actions or the actions of others.

Examples: "I had an awful day at work."

"Unfortunately, I broke my arm."

Letting Go and Finding Peace

Forgiving is the act of releasing resentment towards someone for their actions or words. It allows the speaker to move forward and find inner peace instead of holding onto grudges.

Examples: "I forgive you for causing me pain."

"It's okay, I understand you did not intend to hurt me."

Expressions of Pride and Satisfaction

Boasting refers to showcasing one's accomplishments or talents in an expressive manner. It conveys a sense of pride and satisfaction in oneself.

Examples: "I am ecstatic to announce my victory in the competition."

"The exam results are out and I am proud of my achievement."

  • Key takeaways:
  • Expressive verbs effectively convey emotions and sentiments in language.
  • They are essential in various speech acts, including thanking, apologizing, congratulating, and greeting.
  • Other expressive verbs include condoling, deploring, lamenting, forgiving, and boasting.
  • In the fields of linguistics, expressive language is recognized through illocutionary logic and communication studies.

The Concept of Expressives in Linguistics

In linguistics, expressives refer to words or speech acts that convey emotions and feelings about oneself or the world around them. They serve as a means for individuals to express their innermost thoughts and sentiments to others.

Examples of Expressive Verbs

Examples of expressive verbs include phrases such as "I apologize for losing your pen" to convey an apology, "thank you" to express gratitude, "congratulations" to express happiness and pride, and "hello" as a common form of greeting.

The Significance of Expressives in Language

Expressives play a vital role in language as they allow for the expression of emotions and feelings. They facilitate a deeper connection between speakers and listeners by conveying genuine sentiments.

Personality and Expressive Verbs

Individuals with an expressive nature may use expressive speech acts to represent their personality traits, such as creativity or sophistication. This can also be observed in their actions and language choices.

How to Incorporate Expressives into Sentences

The term "expressive" can be used as an adjective to describe a person or action. Expressive speech acts, such as thanking, apologizing, congratulating, and greeting, can be seamlessly integrated into sentences to convey emotions and sentiments.


  • D. Vanderveken & J. Searle. Foundations of Illocutionary Logic. 1985.
  • H. Clark. Using language. 1996.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime