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What Is Verbal Reasoning?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Verbal reasoning refers to how a person works with words to get their full meaning. A good aptitude in this area is demonstrated by being able to draw reasonable conclusions from sentences and paragraphs. Often included on intelligent quotient (IQ) tests, verbal reasoning is also expected in some employment situations to accurately assess and interpret written information.

For example, a medical professional reading a chart with a patient's symptoms and/or lab test results can't simply jump to a conclusion about whether or not he or she has a certain condition or disease. All of the information must be analyzed, and any missing information must be taken into account. One way in which verbal reasoning tests help measure the test taker's ability in determining the best logical possibility is to have him or her supply the missing word. For instance, a question such as "kick is to feet as wave is to ______" could have word choices from which to choose such as finger, fingers, hand, hands, arm or arms.

The correct answer to the above, based on logical reasoning, is "hands" since they are the closet match for waving as feet are to kicking. "Hand" would be incorrect since it's the singular choice that would be a match with "foot," not the plural "feet." "Fingers" are only part of the hand and would match "toes," while the choice "arms" logically corresponds to "legs."

Reading comprehension and critical thinking are both necessary in reasoning verbally. In order to get an accurate response to a verbal reasoning test question, the reader must understand not only the main meaning of the sentence, but also the details. This type of reasoning shouldn't be confused with verbal ability in general, which is also tested in IQ and vocational capacities.

In addition to reading comprehension and reasoning, general verbal ability testing also includes the mechanics of language. Proper sentence structure, spelling, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar are tested. For example, the test taker may be given a paragraph of text not to analyze and interpret the meaning, but rather to add the correct punctuation. Another common method used in this type of testing is to list different variations of how a word can appear to have the test taker choose the correct spelling. Verbal ability test takers may also have to write sentences or paragraphs to show their use of language mechanics such as grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary, although they may also have to do this in combination with a question designed for testing reading comprehension.

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Discussion Comments
By jessiwan — On Jul 02, 2019

I think that verbal reasoning goes beyond just analyzing words and sentence structures to derive meaning. I remember taking this TOEFL test with my brother when we were in ESL classes. One question featured two people having a conversation. One person was complaining about traffic, and the other said, "tell me about it". The question asked what this second person did, and my brother picked she was "asking the first person to tell her about the event", which was of course, wrong. This went beyond just understanding words, it was the detection of sarcasm, which to me is more along the lines of being able to read social cues.

By DylanB — On Jul 28, 2012

@feasting – I absolutely agree with you. I am clueless when it comes to math, but grammar and reading come so naturally to me.

I actually love those test questions like the one mentioned in this article. Even though I could answer most of them rapidly, I make sure to spend several seconds studying them before I choose my answer, because some of them are intended to be tricky.

At the end of every school year, we would have to take a test to determine what all we had learned that year. The verbal reasoning section was always my favorite. I actually miss being quizzed in that way.

By cloudel — On Jul 27, 2012

I work as a graphic designer, and I almost always receive written instructions for the ads I have to create. I really have to do a lot of inferring, because generally, the basics are included, but the rest, I have to reason out.

The other designer that I work with has a hard time with verbal reasoning. If it isn't spelled out for him in detail, he cannot decipher what the client wants.

If I wasn't really good at this type of reasoning, I would hate my job. However, since I thrive on figuring things out as though they are a puzzle, I love what I do.

By feasting — On Jul 26, 2012

I actually just tested myself by choosing an answer to the question in the second paragraph of this article before reading the answer, and I failed! I chose “hand,” because even though “feet” is plural, it doesn't have an “s” on the end, so the answer wasn't obvious right away to me.

This may be why I don't do so well on verbal reasoning sections of tests. I'm better at math and science.

Grammar has never been my strength, and it probably never will be. I believe that people can be super talented in one area and dumb as dirt in others.

Even though I'm good at math, those word problems that make you use reasoning instead of just simple numbers throw me off every time. However, if you give me a problem written numerically, I will almost always get it right.

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