This is not a duplicate of "Single word for a very gentle touch"

I'm well aware of the variety of words for gentle, repeated or sweeping touch (caress, stroke, sweep, brush, rub, swish, graze etc.), but also of punctual, non-repeated touch with a certain amount of power applied (tap, dab, pat, tip, press, knock, poke etc.)

Yet, it's driving me nuts that there seems to be no English word uniting these two aspects, as there is in my native language Finnish -- a light, non-sweeping touch. May sound like a niche concept, but I find myself missing the word on a regular basis.

A "hipaisu" -- is an ephemerally light single touch, as though using a button on a touch screen with neither a tapping noise nor pressure applied.

("lipaisu" in turn refers to an equivalent act with one's tongue. Extra applause for figuring out a word for that too.)

Some examples:

"Holding her breath she approached the alien life form timidly with her hand, and _______ed its translucent skin."

or "As she kept her eye open with her fingers, the boy _______ed her eyeball and giggled."

You could surely use "touched on," which, however, fails to convey the timidity and gentleness of the act, besides being generic. "Tapped," again is too vigorous, and "stroked" too extensive.

Please, Stackers, help me out!

  • There's "boop", but that usually only applies to noses, and may imply a sound effect. – Jeremy Nottingham May 18 '17 at 13:16
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    I propose this question to be included into the famous "list of mankind's unsolved problems". – Christian Geiselmann May 18 '17 at 13:34
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    Yeah, ever so gently touched seems like the English phrase for it. – Jim May 18 '17 at 14:45
  • 'Tap' is used with this meaning, as a quick look in just about any dictionary (a light touch, a soft blow' will show. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 22 '19 at 15:20
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because a valid answer (perhaps the only valid answer) is arbitrarily ruled out. Again. // Although 'glance' seems appropriate also. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '20 at 16:01

For your first sentence, "felt" (as in the verb "feel"). "Touched" would work given the setup you already have, or even "gently touched". "Gently felt" would emphasize the exploratory nature of it.

Instead of looking for a single word, try expanding the sentence to give the implied meaning you want.

"gently touched its translucent skin, feeling the strange texture under her fingertips."

Similarly, for the second sentence example: "the boy touched/felt her eyeball experimentally, and giggled."


One possible word that seems natural to me would be feather:

Feather v.: To touch with or as with a feather; to touch lightly Obsolete. Rare

I would not have thought that this usage was obsolete (though I admittedly don't use it on a daily basis), and I think others would understand your meaning if you used it in this way. In your examples:

"Holding her breath she approached the alien life form timidly with her hand, and feathered its translucent skin."

"As she kept her eye open with her fingers, the boy feathered her eyeball and giggled."

I think it fits well and naturally in the first usage, but the second usage feels odd, so I don't know that 'feather' is always comparable.

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    I think most people would be rather flummoxed. I’ve seen the literal sense, but never the metaphoric one, so I would have assumed that for some reason the girl had just run a feather over the alien, and the boy had just stuck a feather into the girl’s eye. Or perhaps, even more absurdly, that the boy had rotated the girl’s eye in its socket in order to reduce friction (though I very much doubt that would work). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 27 '18 at 16:31
  • Interesting, I might just be an oddball, but it seems quite natural to me. – eenbeetje Nov 27 '18 at 18:36
  • No, feather is not a verb in the sense of touch lightly. And "feathered her eyeball" is scary, to say the least. A woman may feather her hair, that yes. – Lambie Mar 21 '20 at 17:04

Why not tap? "light, non-sweeping touch" and "an ephemerally light single touch" seem exact definitions. The word "tap" does not imply any sound associated.

  • The question states that tap is not wanted as it is too vigorous. – Chenmunka Jun 25 '19 at 14:18

A word that seems to come very close to your intended meaning is 'hover':

"Remain poised uncertainly in one place or between two states."


"Remain at or near a particular level."

In the context of human touch it indicates a very careful, deliberate movement.

"Holding her breath she approached the alien life form timidly with her hand, and hovered its translucent skin."

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