Body parts are among the first words English learners are taught, which is perfectly understandable given that we use our bodies and talk about them a lot.
However, as is often the case in English, many of the nouns describing different parts of the human body are also verbs, and useful ones for that. More often than not students are left to discover them one by one on their own while reading or watching videos.
I decided to make it easier for you and give you a more or less complete list of such verbs in today’s post. (A quick disclaimer: most of the verbs below have multiple meanings; I’ll be looking only at those an average person is most likely to need in their day-to-day speaking – for others you can always consult a good dictionary.)
Starting from the top, our first verb is to head. It has several meanings:
1) to hit the ball with your head, especially in football
Don’t head the ball unless you know how to avoid injury.
2) to travel in a particular direction and often in a deliberate way
We headed out of town early in the morning to avoid traffic.
3) to be in charge, or, in other words, to be the head (=leader, the most important person) of a team, company etc.
Michael heads (up) the London branch of the company.
4) to be at the top of a group of people or things – just like the head is at the top of the body
The book heads the shortlist for the Booker Prize.
The verb face also has multiple meanings. Depending on the context, it can mean:
1) to deal with a difficult situation
Alison lost her job due to the pandemic and, as a single mother of two with a mortgage to pay, is facing serious financial problems.
2) to admit that there’s a problem
Let’s face it – this house is way beyond your budget.
3) to be opposite or to be looking/pointing in a particular direction
The living room faces south so it gets plenty of sunshine in the afternoon.
The verb to eye, unsurprisingly, has to do with looking, but in a specific way – namely, closely, with interest or even suspicion.
The security guard eyed the barefoot man curiously without saying a word.
To mouth means to move your lips as if you are saying words but silently.
As the wedding ceremony was about to begin a solemn silence fell over the church, and in order not to disturb it, the bride cheekily mouthed to the groom ‘Here we go!”
The verb to nose is only used about vehicles to describe a slow movement forward.
If the Titanic’s captain had been wise enough to nose her through the ice floes rather than going full steam ahead, her maiden voyage wouldn’t probably have been also her last one.
The phrasal verbs nose around, nose into (something) and nose (something) out all have to do with trying to find out some information that you’re not supposed to know.
Turning the corner, she noticed a suspiciously looking man nosing around outside her house.
Angela has a really annoying habit of nosing into other people’s private affairs.
The investigative reporter who’s managed to nose out some shocking facts about the newly elected mayor’s past has been highly praised for his courage.
The use of the verb teethe is limited to one stage of life when a baby’s first teeth are beginning to appear.
As Mia’s teething, we are all struggling to get proper sleep at night.
The verb shoulder can be used to mean three different things:
1) put something on the shoulder to carry it
Max shouldered the skis and walked up the slope.
2) to use your shoulders to make your way through a large group of people
I spotted Eric in the living room shouldering his way through the party crowd.
By the way, we use the verb to elbow in a similar way.
3) with words such as responsibility, blame and burden, shoulder is used metaphorically and means ‘accept’ (pretty much like you ‘accept’ the weight of the skis from the example above)
As usual, it is the taxpayer who’s expected to shoulder the cost of the government’s mistakes.
Similar to how your arms provide you with an ability to do lots of useful things, the verb to arm is used to talk about equipping someone with either weapons so they can fight or knowledge, skills or whatever else is needed for them to do something.
Armed with bricks, the rebels smashed the shop windows and then looted the stores.
I strongly recommend this book – it’ll arm you with everything you need to know to pass the exam.
The verb to finger means to touch and handle something with your fingers – no surprises here.
Before I buy an item of clothing, I always finger it first to see how it feels on the skin.
As for the verb to leg, it’s only used as part of the informal expression to leg it meaning ‘to run in order to escape from someone/something’.
(One burglar to another): Leg it, the police are coming!
To knee means ‘to hit something with your knee’.
However, you can’t use the verb to foot in a similar way. (To say ‘hit someone with your foot’ use the verb to kick.) In fact, as a verb to foot can only be used as part of the informal expression to foot the bill meaning ‘to pay for something that you don’t want to pay for’.
The new law regulating the storage of users’ data is said to incur no additional cost for the Internet providers. That’s not true, and in the end it’s their customers who are going to foot the bill.
Hope you found this post useful (if a bit lengthy). Remember that to make any new words and expressions part of your active vocabulary, you need to make the conscious effort of using them whenever an opportunity arises. Good luck!