What is a Pat on the Back?

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  • Written By: Matthew F.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2015
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A pat on the back is a physical way of conveying one of many messages. It is mainly a form of praise — a way to say “good job” or “atta boy." It could be a congratulatory act or just a physically intimate way to say "job well done." It expresses the praise differently than the verbal message would, and is a way of conveying a physical closeness or intimate proximity.

A congratulations in an athletic event is often given as a pat on the back. This gesture has been used since the inception of sports — to celebrate a home run, to congratulate a goal scorer, or to celebrate a catch. It is a form of praise from a coach to a player, or from a player to a player. It expresses a physical joy that words do no accommodate.

It can also be used by a father to encourage a discouraged son or a leader a discouraged follower. The pat can be a reassuring form of praise. Another way of saying “atta boy,” the pat can say, “get ‘em next time." It may be used to praise a player, son, friend, teammate, or anyone for a job well done but not successful.


A pat on the back may also be a way of consoling someone who is sad, upset or hurt. It is not always praise, but can also be comforting in this way. It can be a way of saying, “I’m here for you” or “I’ve got your back,” as well as being a form of praise. All these forms express the need and importance of physical intimacy and affectionate touching.

This form of praise or comfort can be a good option when words are not necessary or practical — when words are too loud or emotional. It can be a confident exchange between an otherwise awkward pairing or a communication more easily understood than words. It is reassuring as a universal form of praise. It can even be an encouragement to onesself, as in "Give yourself a pat on the back."


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Discuss this Article

Post 6

I am a woman and I personally would love being patted on the back; it would make me feel like I am one of the guys. But maybe it's actually supposed to be rude/condescending as the women in these stories say. I don't really know.

Post 5

I patted my mom on the back and she said it's condescending. I was not aware of that fact. Does anybody else think a pat on the back is condescending? I don't!

Post 4

I'm a male and I received a pat on the back by a female co-worker in the lunch room but I still haven't found its significance. It happened maybe a week ago. I've read this article and this pat on the back has no spot on the list.

Post 3

I did pat a casual girl friend (no intimacy) on the back and she said to me that I should never pat on a woman's back as it is rude, etc. Sam

Post 2

Anon88718- I had never even thought about that. I usually think of a pat on the back as praise like the writer suggested.

Sometimes it can also be a way to console someone that is upset. For example, when my uncle died, I pat my aunt on the back in order to console her in her time of grief. I pat on the back is usually meant as a comforting gesture.

Post 1

I was also under the impression that pat on the back is what one man does to another to test him. They say that if you pat a man on the back and he puts his head down then he is in submission to you and that's how you tell an alpha male from a beta male? the alpha male keeps his head up while the beta male ducks his head down when patted on the back.

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