Is there an English word to describe the act of moving one's lips as though speaking but without making a sound? One would do this with the expectation that the person he is attempting to communicate with will read his lips.

As an example, if I walk into my boss's office while he is on the phone and he tells me to "wait a sec..." while wrapping up his phone conversation but without the person on the other end of the phone hearing.

Is there a single word for that?

  • 1
    He would be "mouthing the words".
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 29, 2014 at 0:51

5 Answers 5


Mouth. For example, you could write, "She mouthed an 'I love you' to him from across the room".

  • 1
    If she was just mouthing the words, did she really mean them? Sep 14, 2013 at 0:18
  • 5
    Note that, as a denominal verb (cf "Verbing"), the final TH of mouth (v) is voiced -- /ð/ and not /θ/; i.e, one says She mouthed an 'I love you' as /ʃi'mauðdəˌnai'ləvˌyu/. Sep 14, 2013 at 0:52

While most people (myself included) would probably say your boss mouthed something at you, you can also use subvocalize:

tr. & intr.v. sub·vo·cal·ized, sub·vo·cal·iz·ing, sub·vo·cal·iz·es

To articulate or engage in articulation by moving the lips or other speech organs without making audible sounds, as in reading to oneself.

You don't really subvocalize to someone (though you might do so to a computer in the near future) but it does mean moving your lips as if in speech with no sound coming out.

  • 2
    It does not really mean moving your lips, although in exceptional cases I suppose it could be used in that context. Subvocalization refers primarily to movements of the vocal cords and tongue. "Most subvocalization is undetectable (without the aid of machines) even by the person doing the subvocalizing." (Wikipedia)
    – MetaEd
    Sep 20, 2013 at 16:00
  • @MετάEd yes, that's why I said I wouldn't use it. However, the definition I quoted could apply.
    – terdon
    Sep 20, 2013 at 16:03

Although the word can have a wider meaning, I prefer mime to the accepted answer mouth, which to my ears is unusual and ugly. Be that as it may, here are extracts from the Oxford Dictionary definition of mime to support my answer:


1 [with object] Use only gesture and movement to act out (a play or role)

‘a mimed play’

1.1 Convey or represent (an action, idea, or emotion) by using only gesture and movement.

‘Eddie mimed an attack of nausea’

2 [no object] Pretend to sing or play an instrument as a recording is being played.

‘singers on television often mime to pre-recorded tape tracks’

Example 2 shows that the term can be used in a sense restricted to lip movement.

  • mouth, which to my ears is unusual and ugly.... ;-) sounds like a personal issue. To mouth a word is not that unusual. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. To mime something suggests more of a body wide performance. He mouthed "I love you," looks very different in mind than He mimed "I love you."
    – rebusB
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:49
  • @rebusB — Beauty (and ugliness) may be in the eye of the beholder, but there are certainly circumstances in which mouth is used in a way that most would agree does not convey the idea of beauty: ‘loud mouth’, ‘mouth off’, ‘open mouthed’, ‘mouth wash’ being examples. This is not a creative writing site, but if I wished to convey the amourous sentiments you mention I would not confine myself to a single word, and would likely construct a sentence with the word ‘lips’, e.g. “from across the room she could see his lips making a silent ‘I love you’”. Let me know if you need to contact my agent.
    – David
    Sep 13, 2017 at 21:05

An adjective for talking soundlessly is aphonic:

adjective 1. mouthed but not spoken; noiseless; silent.

2. Phonetics . a. lacking phonation; unvoiced. b. without voice; voiceless.


Of course, nowadays there also is the specialist usage in music entertainment of 'lipsynching' (often spelt 'lip sync'), where singers silently 'perform' their songs on stage while the recording is played over the sound system.

However, in most other cases I would tend to use 'mouthing'.

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