English Language Blog

Some Common American Hand Gestures Posted by on Jan 22, 2012 in Culture, English Language

Today I’m going to share with you some hand gestures that are often used by English speakers.  I am sure if you think about it you will remember times you have seen Americans use these hand gestures either in movies, TV shows, or in person.  These are all pretty commonly used.  First though, I thought we should define what a gesture is:

Gesture –
1. A motion of the limbs or body made to express or help express thoughts or to emphasize speech.
2. The act of moving the limbs or body as an expression of thought or emphasis.

The hand gestures below are used to replace a word or phrase or accompany a word or phrase while speaking.  I asked my family for some help in recording these gestures and I’ve included pictures of them demonstrating what each hand gesture looks like.

Air quotes

Air quotes are made by raising both hands to about eye level and flexing the index and middle fingers of both hands while speaking.  This means you are quoting someone or something while you are speaking.  Often people say “quote….unquote” or “quote…end quote” when they make this gesture.

Hand rubbing

Hand rubbing or rubbing both hands together in front of the body, indicates either that you feel cold or you are expecting or anticipating something.

Thumbs-up or Thumbs-down

Thumbs-up or thumps-down are common gestures of approval (thumbs-up) or disapproval (thumbs down).  These gestures are made by extending the thumb upward or downward with the rest of the hand in a fist.

High five

High five is a celebratory gesture in which two people simultaneously raise one hand and then slap these hands together in the air.  This is a gesture often used in celebration, for example after winning a game.  Sometimes people say, “Give me five.” when they want to high five with you.

Crossed Fingers

Crossed fingers are used to express you are wishing or hoping for something.  They are also used to wish someone good luck.  You might say “good luck” to someone and show him or her your crossed fingers at the same time.

A-ok or Okay

A-ok is made by connecting the thumb and forefinger in a circle and holding the other fingers straight.  This is a sign for the word “okay.”  This means everything is fine or ‘no problem.’

V-sign or Peace sign

The V-sign is made by raising the index and middle fingers and separating them to form a V with the palm facing outward. This sign began to be used during World War II to indicate “V for Victory”. In the 1960s, the hippie-movement in the United States began to use the V-sign to mean “peace”.

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.


  1. davoud:

    Thank you dear Gabriele, I am looking for a first one “air quote” for a long time now I understand it.

    send my regard to your family too. davoud from Iran-Shabestar

  2. tarzan: