Back to W. B. Stiles home page

Verbal Response Modes Coding System  


            The verbal response modes (VRM) taxonomy (Stiles, 1992) is a general-purpose classification of speech acts. It concerns what people do when they say something rather than the content of what they say. It can be used to describe the relationship of speaker to other in any sort of discourse.

            Each utterance (defined as a simple sentence; independent clause; nonrestrictive dependent clause; multiple predicate; or term of acknowledgment, evaluation, or address) in dyadic conversation is coded as reflection (R), acknowledgment (K), interpretation (I), question (Q), confirmation (C), edification (E), advisement (A), or disclosure (D). These VRM codes are assigned according to three principles of classification, each of which can take the value of other or speaker:

1. source of experience: whether the utterance’s topic is information held by the other or by the speaker,

2.  frame of reference: whether the utterance is expressed from a point of view shared with the other or from the speaker’s own point of view, and

3. presumption: whether the speaker presumes knowledge of what the other’s experience or frame of reference is, was, will be, or should be (other) or instead uses knowledge only of his or her own experience and frame of reference (speaker).

As shown in Table 1, these three forced choices place every utterance into one of the eight mutually exclusive categories, which are exhaustive in the sense that every comprehensible utterance can be coded. The designation uncodable (U) is used only for utterances that are incomprehensible.


Table 1

Taxonomy of Verbal Response Modes

Source of experience

Frame of reference












Form: Second person; verb implies internal experience or volitional action.

Form: Nonlexical or contentless utterances; terms of address or salutation.



Intent: Puts other’s experience into words; repetitions, restatements, clarifications.

Intent: Conveys receipt of or receptiveness to other’s communication; simple acceptance, salutations.







Form: Second person (“you”); verb implies an attribute or ability of the other; terms of evaluation.

Form: Interrogative, with inverted subject-verb order or interrogative words.



Intent: Explains or labels the other; judgments or evaluations of other’s experience or behavior.

Intent: Requests information or guidance.







Form: First person plural (“we”) where referent includes other.

Form: Declarative; third person (e.g., “he,” “she,” “it”).



Intent: Compares speaker’s experience with other’s;  agreement, disagreement, shared experience or belief.

Intent: States objective information.







Form: Imperative, or second person with verb of permission, prohibition, or obligation.

Form: Declarative; first person singular (“I”) or first person plural (“we”) where other is not a referent.



Intent: Attempts to guide behavior; suggestions, commands, permission, prohibition.

Intent: Reveals thoughts, feelings, wishes, perceptions, or intentions.

Note. Both the form and intent of each utterance are coded. For example, “Would you close the window?” is question form with advisement intent (abbreviated QA).


            In VRM coding, each utterance is coded twice, once for its grammatical form and once for its pragmatic intent, using the same eight categories for each. Form and intent definitions are shown in Table 1. An utterance that has the same form and intent is called a pure mode.  For example, “I have pain when I move my legs” would be coded as disclosure form (first-person singular) and disclosure intent (reveals subjective experience), abbreviated DD. Alternatively, an utterance can be a mixed mode, having the form of one mode and the intent of another.  For example, “I went to the emergency room last week” would be coded as disclosure form (first-person singular) and edification intent (transmits objective information), abbreviated DE. 

Role Dimensions

            The VRM taxonomy yields a number of descriptive indexes, including a set of role dimensions. Each of the taxonomy’s eight basic modes is considered as either informative or attentive, as either directive or acquiescent, and as either presumptuous or unassuming. For a passage of any length, indexes of each role dimension for each speaker can be calculated as the proportion of the speaker’s coded utterances in the designated modes (see Table 2).  For example, a physician’s informativeness is calculated as the proportion of his or her utterances that were coded as advisement, disclosure, confirmation, or edification. Conversely, attentiveness is calculated as the proportion coded as interpretation, question, reflection, or acknowledgment – or, equivalently, as 1 minus informativeness (because every coded utterance is either attentive or informative; see Table 2). Role dimension indexes can be calculated separately for form and intent or averaged across form and intent.


Table 2

Constituent Verbal Response Modes of Role Dimensions

Role dimension

Constituent verbal response modes


Confirmation, Edification, Advisement, Disclosure


Reflection, Acknowledgment, Interpretation, Question


Interpretation, Question, Advisement, Disclosure


Reflection, Acknowledgment, Confirmation, Edification


Reflection, Interpretation, Confirmation, Advisement


Acknowledgment, Edification, Question, Disclosure

Note: Each role dimension index is the proportion of coded utterances (i.e., ignoring uncodable utterances) that were coded in the designated modes. These indexes can be calculated separately for mode form and intent or averaged across form and intent. Role dimensions are arranged in complementary pairs: Attentiveness = 1 - Informativeness; Acquiescence = 1 - Directiveness; and Unassumingness = 1 - Presumptuousness.


            The role dimensions (Table 2) are parallel to the principles of classification (Table 1). They make the same distinctions, but do so from two different perspectives. Whereas the principles take an utterance-level coder’s perspective, indicating how to classify a particular utterance, the role dimensions take a passage-level observer’s perspective, indicating how the utterance contributes to the interpersonal relationship (Stiles, 1992).

            Attentiveness and informativeness are based on the source of experience classification principle, which measures the degree to which a speaker’s utterances concern the other’s or the speaker’s experience. Interpersonally, attentiveness has to do with manifest interest in the other and attempts to ensure that the other’s thoughts are expressed and considered in the conversation, whereas informativeness has to do with providing information to the other.

            Acquiescence and directiveness are based on the frame of reference classification principle. Interpersonally, acquiescence has to do with acceding to the other’s viewpoint, whereas directiveness measures the degree to which the speaker guides the conversation by using his or her own viewpoint. 

            Presumptuousness and unassumingness are based on the presumption classification principle. Interpersonally, presumptuousness has to do with higher relative status, knowing the other, or assuming that one is important to the other, whereas unassumingness has to do with lower status and deference. 

            The VRM coding system thus considers each utterance as simultaneously representing one or the other pole on all three of the role dimensions. For example, an edification such as “The accident was on the ninth of September” (EE) is considered as simultaneously informative, acquiescent, and unassuming. A question, such as “Was it a pretty bad car accident?” (QQ) is considered as attentive, directive, and unassuming. An advisement, such as “Now turn this way,” (AA) is considered as informative, directive, and presumptuous.

            Mixed modes offer still more subtle ways of representing relational aspects of verbal exchange. For example, “Could you scoot forward a bit?” (QA) is directive in both form and intent, since both question and advisement are utterances made from the speaker’s own frame of reference. However, this utterance is informative and presumptuous in intent (due to its advisement intent) but attentive and unassuming in form (due to its question form). Thus, because of its mixed mode status, “Could you scoot forward a bit?” (QA) is subtly more polite than its pure-mode counterpart, “Scoot forward a bit” (AA). Or, consider the exchange (Dr: “Does that hurt?”[QQ] Pt: “Mm-hmm.” [KD]), in which the patient’s nonlexical acknowledgment form in effect uses the physician’s words to convey her own private experience. In role dimension terms, this patient to physician microrelationship can be described as formally attentive and acquiescent but informative and directive in intent.

            Importantly, VRM coders do not impressionistically rate global qualities such as attentiveness or presumptuousness directly. Instead, they decide whether each utterance is a disclosure, a question, or one of the other six VRM categories. Thus, for example, to achieve a characteristic level of attentiveness in the medical history segment, a physician must use precise proportions of attentive and informative utterances, one at a time, as the particular interview evolves.


Stiles, W. B. (1992). Describing talk: A taxonomy of verbal response modes. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.


There is available a VRM coder training program. People who complete this successfully will be competent coders.


If you have questions, please contact me at <>.