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Which is correct/better to state:

He was orally informed

OR

He was verbally informed.

What determines when it is suitable to use either, i.e. verbally or orally.

5

Verbally comes from Latin verbum, “word.” Its adjective form verbal is often used in the sense of “spoken,” and contrasted with “written.”

Orally comes from Late Latin oralis, which comes from Latin os, “mouth.” It means “by mouth.” Like verbally, orally is sometimes use in the sense of “spoken”.

From Grammarist.com:

English authorities have traditionally urged against using verbal in reference to spoken things—for example, verbal/oral communications, verbal/oral reports, and verbal/oral warnings—but verbal is increasingly used in these phrases, perhaps in part due to oral‘s prurient associations. But oral is still a good word, so one does not have to follow the trend toward favoring verbal. Still, using verbal in the newer way is not wrong, as it is sanctioned by common, widespread usage and is by no means new.

I think Verbally is more suitable though.

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    Oral means using your mouth but verbal means using words and encompasses both oral and written. – bib Sep 6 '13 at 12:37
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    You're supposed to name your source when you quote another website verbatim. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Sep 6 '13 at 17:21
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    The real 'distortion' seems to arise between the etymological 'word' and the idiomatic 'spoken'. When did words become 'spoken only'? Verbal has to do with words, whether spoken, written or whatever. 'Oral' is pointedly referring to the 'spoken' process in contrast with other ways of communicating. – Kris Sep 10 '13 at 5:53
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Oral is perfectly acceptable in the context by current AmE usage.

o·ral ˈôrəl/ adjective
1. by word of mouth; spoken rather than written.
"they had reached an oral agreement"
synonyms: spoken, verbal, unwritten, vocal, uttered, said, by mouth, viva voce
"an oral agreement"

Also on ODO.

Oral = verbal

1

'Verbal/verbally' is ambiguous (see the AHD entry at thefreedictionary.com/verbal ) and needs context for clarity.

'Oral/orally' connotes dental hygiene, but would not be incorrect here.

I'd use: 'He was informed by word of mouth.'

Though it uses more words than your suggestions, and seems rather quirky to one unfamiliar with the expression, it is, in my opinion, the most natural-sounding to an anglophone.

  • Oral means pertaining to the mouth. It has nothing do with dental hygiene. The phrase 'by word of mouth' means something that is spread by rumour, or passed from person to person. It is definitely inappropriate here. – user24964 Sep 6 '13 at 14:37
  • @TheMathemagician Are you being serious? Your 'inappropriate here' statement is unequivocally wrong, and your first statement is disingenuous. 'Connotes' = 'often brings to mind', and there are more Google hits for "oral hygiene" than for "oral tradition". oral 2. (Medicine) relating to, affecting, or for use in the mouth (AHD; italicizing mine) by word of mouth: by speaking rather than writing. I learned about it by word of mouth. ( idioms.thefreedictionary.com/by+word+of+mouth ) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 6 '13 at 22:29
  • Word of mouth means that you casually heard something, some news, almost by accident. Yes, it can be information but I would not use that expression to say someone was informed by word of mouth (by a single person). I often hear that expression when a show, a book, film or a product becomes extremely popular. And "He was informed orally" is not ambivalent and I do not see why you had to mention dental hygiene. – Mari-Lou A Sep 7 '13 at 18:26
  • @Mari-Lou A : Merriam-Webster, AHD, Collins, and Cambridge Dictionaries Online (definition: 'in speech but not in writing: "All the orders were given by word of mouth so that no written evidence could be discovered later." ') have no stipulation that 'by word of mouth' be restricted to speech 'casually heard ... almost by accident'. Other quotes from the web are: "to avoid giving in writing the intentions of their masters, and they choose always rather to explain them by word of mouth" / "That can all be done by word of mouth; the law does not usually require that a contract be in writing". – Edwin Ashworth Sep 7 '13 at 19:16
  • ...I see you give no examples to support your viewpoint. With regard to 'He was informed orally', I did not claim that this was ambiguous. I said that 'oral' has connotations that 'by word of mouth' doesn't. Admittedly, one person's connotations need not be another's, but I always 'see' medical nuances when meeting the word 'oral'. This wasn't the same 50 years ago - when the word 'oral' conjured up images of French examinations. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 7 '13 at 19:25
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Here's the Ngram for both. It's interesting that they seem to converge. I guess "orally" is just as popular nowadays.

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Most of the posts miss an important culture facet of these words use:


"Oral" generally implies an 'oral tradition'. This means that the information that was spoken happened between trusting parties, and the communication carries certain responsibilities.

'Receiving Oral Communication' generally implies a privilege status within a group. it is exclusive.

"Verbally" generally is used to specify the mode of communication, as to differentiate it from written communication (which may include a structured format, like slides/cards).

Because of the differentiation, the term can sometimes be used to indicate risk (e.g.'only verbal and not written', implying lack of paper trail for legal proceedings)


In your case, saying "He was orally informed" implies a warning or other documentation, and so the word "verbally" is more appropriate.

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