What is the Game of Charades?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Charades is a popular guessing game often played at parties or other social events. Teams of at least two players choose one team member to pantomime an unknown but familiar quotation, title, name or other short phrase. The other members of the team must declare the correct phrase in its entirety within a specified time limit to win a point. The opposite team must then do the same in order to win their own point. The team with the most points after a number of rounds is declared the winner. The prime directive in Charades is not to utter a sound while performing clues to the phrase in question.

Players act out words without speaking in Charades.
Players act out words without speaking in Charades.

The game of Charades has a number of rules to ensure fair play. Performers cannot provide any audible clues, such as the sound of a siren or the barking of a dog. Official sign language spellings or the pantomiming of actual letters is also against the rules.

Charades may be a good exercise in promoting team building.
Charades may be a good exercise in promoting team building.

To aid the performer during a round of Charades, there are a number of different gestures which can be used legally. The specific category of the clue can be indicated with an opening palm gesture for literature, a hand cranking motion for movies or the drawing of a square to indicate television, for example. Once the category has been established, the Charades performer can provide more specific clues to his or her team members.

In general, the performer will provide the total number of words in the phrase by displaying a corresponding number of fingers. A clue such as "Gone with the Wind," for example, would receive a display of four fingers. The next gesture might reveal which of the words the performer will act out first. Typically, this will be a distinctive word or one that is easily acted out. The performer in our scenario might indicate the fourth word, wind, and act as if her or she were walking against a powerful breeze. A team member might successfully shout out the word "wind," and others may blurt out movie titles ending in that word.

The next gesture in Charades might be to change the tense of a verb to match the clue. In our scenario, the performer might get a team member to guess the first word as "Go," but the tense would be wrong. A past tense can be legally indicated by holding up both hands and sweeping the palms backward simultaneously, as if waving in an airplane or car. The team member may respond by saying "Gone," the past tense of "Go." The team may be able to guess "Gone with the Wind" by this point, or they may need another clue to be performed.

Small words such as a, and, or the can legally be indicated by displaying a nearly-pinched thumb and forefinger. In our scenario, the performer would first display three fingers to establish the third word, then indicate a small word with the pinched thumb and forefinger. Team members might go through a list of common small words until the word "the" is declared. The word "with" might be indicated as a small word, or it could be acted out as a relationship between two characters, indicating one is with the other.

With more complicated phrases, individual words may have to be broken down into syllables. This can be legally indicated by the performer placing an appropriate number of fingers on his or her forearm to designate the syllable about to be performed. A word such as inherit, for example, could be acted out by indicating the second syllable and point to one's own hair. The first syllable could be performed as a hand going "in" the other hand. The team members may sound out "in", "hair" and "it" to guess inherit.

There are other common gestures in Charades, such as a stretching of the hands to indicate a longer form of a word, or a rolling motion to indicate a closely related word to a team member's first guess. If the guesser says "breeze," for example, the performer can roll his or her hands to guide the guesser towards the desired synonym "wind," Performers can also indicate exact guesses by tapping their noses and pointing at the correct guesser, and encourage other team members to string disconnected words together to form the correct phrase.

Charades can be a very good exercise in non-verbal communication skills and team building. The creators of the clues must recuse themselves from playing the actual game of Charades, but they can still be timekeepers, scorekeepers, hosts and referees. The real excitement of Charades is often in the head-to-head competition and the added pressure of a timer to limit performances. Certain words may prove extremely difficult to pantomime, which only adds to the tension as time runs out.

Body language and gestures are an important part of playing Charades.
Body language and gestures are an important part of playing Charades.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Mutsy-I think that hardest charades to guess are Shrek and Being John Malkovich. Those two titles have to be pretty difficult to act out.

Charades clues can be really challenging but that makes the game fun. If it were too easy, it would be boring.


The charades game is really fun, for children and adults. You really have to be creative to come up with gestures in order for the group to guess what the charade is about.

It is really fun because everyone gets a chance to act out the charade and the element of surprise of not knowing what the charade will say makes it extra fun.

It is really easy to learn how to play charades. You really get the hang of it once a few people act out their charades. They also have a book called charades for dummies that actually teaches the basics of charades.

Post your comments
Forgot password?