ABA 101: What Are Verbal Operants?

October 15, 2018 - Jayd Lucco, M.S., RBT

ABA 101: What Are Verbal Operants?

By Jayd Lucco, M.S, RBT

At Cornerstone Autism Center  we work on the expansion of skills through the verbal operants. The verbal operants are foundational in developing language and communication skills. According to Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2007), learning skills within one verbal operant promotes growth in other verbal operants. It is exciting to watch our learners’ overall growth as they gain and build upon skills within each verbal operant. Verbal behavior consists of many operants, including: mand, tact, echoic, intraverbal, listener responding, motor imitation, and visual perception match-to-sample (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). A more detailed definition and an example of some of these operants is provided below.

Mand: The speaker communicates what they want or need (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: The child asks for a ball when they want to play with it.

Tact: The speaker labels something within their environment (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: You smell popcorn and say, “Mmm, popcorn!”

Echoic: The speaker repeats what is heard (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: Therapist says, “Say cookie!” The client repeats, “Cookie!”

Intraverbal (IV): The speaker responds to another speaker conversationally (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: Someone asks, “Where do you go to school?” The child replies, “Cornerstone.”

Listener Responding (LR): The listener responds to the request of another person in the form of an action. The listener follows directions (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: Someone says, “High five.” You give them a high five.

Motor Imitation (MI): The listener copies the movement of another individual (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: The therapist says, “Copy me!” Then the therapist stomps his feet. The client stomps her feet.

Visual Perception Match-to-Sample (VPMTS): The listener sorts and matches like items (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Example: Therapist says, “Match” and hands the client a picture of a dog. The client then matches this picture to another picture of a dog.

Each day at Cornerstone, we work to expand our clients’ skill repertoire by teaching verbal operants in order to promote growth in communication and language development. As the child gains skills within each operant, more complex skills can be taught using these same principles. Watching our clients’ overall growth as they expand upon each operant is truly amazing!

Also, download our Quick Guide to Verbal Operants on our “Resources” page.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Last updated by at .

October 15, 2018, Jayd Lucco, M.S., RBT

3 thoughts on “ABA 101: What Are Verbal Operants?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *