Skip to content
Health, Sports & Psychology

Verbal fluency

Updated Tuesday 4th January 2005

John Oates explains verbal fluency. Have fun with our tests to measure how quickly you can think and talk

Verbal fluency is, basically, the ease with which a person can produce words. There are several tests of this ability, but most of them involve some sort of category like fruits, words beginning with the letter Q or animals. The person being tested is asked to name as many different examples of the category as they can in a fixed period of time, such as a minute.

So most tests of this sort involve more than just producing lots of words, they also involve some conscious mental processing as well. Doing a task like coming up with many different types of fruit names involves using the association area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Studies using brain scanning have shown that this part of the brain is especially active during such tests.

In the 2004 Child of our Time programme called Read My Lips, we saw that the children differed in how fluent they were. Being reasonably fluent with words is important for communication. However, being able to produce lots of words very quickly is not a measure of intelligence!

Here are some tests to measure your verbal fluency.

You will need: a stopwatch, or a watch or clock with a second hand; pencil and paper; ideally, another person to time you and count your word output.

Test 1
Speak as many fruit names as you can in thirty seconds.

Test 2
In thirty seconds, speak as many words as you can that start with the letter B.

If you are doing these tests on your own, you will need to make a tally mark for each word that you produce and then count up your tallies at the end. Tallying your words is obviously going to slow you down to some extent. If another person is timing you, ask them to count your output by making a tally mark for each word that you produce. After doing each test, you can then turn the tables on them and switch roles.

Being able to produce 10-15 words in 30 seconds shows a reasonable level of fluency.

It is unlikely that you were able to produce exactly the same number of words for each test. There is some research that shows that different parts of the brain are involved in these two different tasks.

Age is clearly a significant factor that affects performance; younger children tend to be less fluent than older children and adults. This has a lot to do with how many words are in a person’s vocabulary.

One important aspect of verbal fluency is having a large vocabulary of words to draw on. But a large word store is not all that is involved; you also need to be able to search rapidly through your vocabulary, find a word that fits the task, speak it and then repeat this until you run out of time. Some people speak much faster than others, some are quicker than others at searching for the right words and some are better at repeating the same thing over and over again! Being able to name lots of fruit also depends on the amount of experience that you have had with different fruits. So this test of verbal fluency is actually measuring quite a few different things.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Why do we love to gossip? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Why do we love to gossip?

Tamara Beckwith is probably best known to most of you for her regular appearances in the gossip columns. As someone who knows the sharp end of this very human form of communication, she’s always wondered why we’re suckers for tittle-tattle about other people...sometimes even people we don’t know. Ever Wondered sends her to dispel the rumour and innuendo and do some digging

Article
I-SPY: Find out more about the research on Internet infidelity Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

I-SPY: Find out more about the research on Internet infidelity

If you enjoyed our I-SPY series and want to dig deeper, find out more about the research on infidelity with Dr Andreas Vosser and Naomi Moller.

Article
Psychological drama: Writing fictional crime drama for a forensic psychology course Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Micha Klootwijk | Dreamstime.com article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Psychological drama: Writing fictional crime drama for a forensic psychology course

For Graham Pike, writing psychology courses is part of the job. But what happened when he found himself having to create a crime drama?

Article
Thomas Hardy, the wired world and the business of love Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Thomas Hardy, the wired world and the business of love

A Google search identifies nearly 8.6 million references on the net to ‘online dating’. The internet is a medium which provides mystery and distance - a fertile medium in which love can flourish.

Article
The psychology of genetic testing Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

The psychology of genetic testing

Richard Stevens, senior lecturer in psychology with the Open University, explores some of the psychological implications of genetic science

Article
Am I In Control? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Am I In Control?

Do you believe that you control your life, or do you feel that it is controlled by other people and events? John Oates invites you to take our 'locus of control' test and find out

Article
Predicting personality Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Predicting personality

The Next Big Thing guests debated if personality is fixed at birth - and if genetics might allow us to choose our children's temperament.

Article
Did you see it? The magic of misdirection Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University video icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Did you see it? The magic of misdirection

Are you pretty sharp? Do you pride yourself on your Holmes-like powers of observation? Try watching the 'Bet You Can't Do This' video

Video
5 mins
Falling hard: Why do Americans love pumpkin so much? Creative commons image Icon Jackie under a CC-BY under Creative-Commons license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Falling hard: Why do Americans love pumpkin so much?

When leaves start to turn colour, it's a signal for Americans to add pumpkin spice to almost everything. Why do they do that? Is it something in their brains? 

Article