In a gesture of goodwill, Tim Bowen explains the uses of this tricky word.

The noun gesture is defined as ‘a movement of the body communicating feeling or instruction’.

A gesture can be unpleasant, in which case it may be described as angry, obscene, offensive, rude or threatening, as in ‘The driver and her passenger made offensive gestures and shouted obscenities’.

A gesture may also be done in an extreme way, using your face, hands and arms, in which case it can be described as exaggerated, expansive, expressive, flamboyant or theatrical, as in ‘He waved his arm and bowed in a flamboyant gesture of welcome’.

If a gesture can also refer to something that is done. If it is not effective, it may be empty, futile, pointless, symbolic or token, for example ‘People are tired of token gestures from this government. What they want is action’. A generous gesture can be extravagant, grand, magnanimous or thoughtful, as in ‘In what was seen as a magnanimous gesture by the regime, a number of political prisoners were freed in the run-up to the elections’. Different feelings can be conveyed by conciliatory, defiant, kind and romantic gestures respectively, as in ‘We would like to thank the mayor for his kind gesture’.

Followed by of, gesture also collocates with a number of nouns, both positive and negative. Positive feelings are conveyed by gestures of appreciation, friendship, goodwill, gratitude, respect, solidarity and support, as in ‘As a gesture of goodwill, we will waive our fees on this occasion’.

Rather more negative feelings are conveyed by gestures of contempt, defiance and protest, as in ‘The mass demonstration in the central square was seen as a gesture of defiance against the new legislation’.