Passive-Aggressive Texting Is A Thing: Tips On Avoiding (Or Accomplishing) It

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy

You may be a passive-aggressive texter. You probably don’t know it—or maybe you do, and you’re deploying it selectively. Passive-aggressive texting is real, because, as NPR says in an article about the subject, language is always changing. Moreover, the way you use texting may be very different from the way your teen or tween uses it, and little tics could signal nastiness when none is meant.

When we text, we lack normal emotional cues we use to read a person’s tone, such as vocal range or facial expressions. That makes texting especially ripe for misunderstanding. Our language “has evolved,” NPR says, and the meaning of words and phrases is steadily shifting, especially among younger people.

Want to avoid passive-aggressive texting? Here are some tips. Want to engage in passive-aggressive texting? You might want to add these tips to your arsenal.

Avoid Periods At The End of A Message

As NPR says, periods can freak people out. Because we can just hit “send” at the end of a message, including a period at the end of a statement can “indicate seriousness or a sense of finality.” When you combine it with something like “OK” or “Sounds good,” this passive-aggressive texting move can indicate a dismissiveness, or even the opposite of what you actually mean.

“Now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression,” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author, tells NPR.

Major Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: Replying “K”

Look, it’s only one other letter. When you answer “K,” you’re indicating that you are, in fact, not okay with something, says YourTango. It signals “sure, I’ll do it/pretend to be okay with it, but I’m really not, and I’m telling you that.” Major passive-aggressive texting move, especially when you combine it with a period. It also signals you don’t have time for the person: you’re not even using an extra letter.


This happens most often in group texts. Someone will comment on something, particularly something good that happened, and you jump in with a story or anecdote of your own without acknowledging it (“Well, this happened to me when…”) or “Good for you” or even worse, “Good for you, the same thing happened to me…” All this turns your genuine desire for communication into something about them. Total passive-aggressive texting move.

Omitting Emojis… Or Using Them Improperly

According to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, love ’em or hate ’em, emojis are here to stay. With a smiley face, your passive aggressive period can become more passive aggressive. But with a heart and no period, you’re saying what you mean.

But emojis, Sara Kerr, a business professor at St. Catherine University, explains to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, can also soften what you mean: they function as the facial expressions you can’t read. The word “Goodnight,” for example, followed by a period, has a passive-aggressive texting-like sound. But “Goodnight” sans period and followed by a heart (or more) softens the statement into what you may actually mean (“I’m leaving the conversation but it’s because you or I are going to sleep, not because I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”).

But when used with any other signs of passive-aggressive texting, an emoji can make everything worse. The ubiquitous smiley face isn’t enough. If you really want to soften things, try hearts or the LOL symbol.

Indicating The Text Is Read… And Not Responding: One of the Most Passive-Aggressive Texting Sins

This is one of the ultimate moves, YourTango says, that indicates passive-aggressive texting. You’re saying, “I don’t care about you enough to respond,” and “I see you, and don’t see you worthy of a response.” If you read it, you respond to it. Period. (pun intended).

Texting Long Paragraphs… Or Texting Over and Over and Over

Texting is by nature meant for short, pithy responses, says The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If you’re sending a long response, agrees Bolde, you’re signaling that you planned something, and that while you may be saying something, you’re really ticked off about whatever’s happening… or you’re extra pissed off.

The same goes for texting a few-word answers over and over without waiting for a response in between. I’ve been known to pull this with my husband when I’m actually mad at him and don’t want to say so. It signals that there are multiple issues you need to express, and you’re not giving the other person time to respond. Totally passive-aggressive texting.

Texting “Ha”

You’re saying the opposite of what you mean when you text a two-letter response to something meant to be funny, says YourTango. By saying “ha,” (especially when you combine it with the period), you’re dismissing someone and indicating that whatever has happened is not actually funny at all.

Serious Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: “Can We Call Instead?”

Cardinal sin, says 11points. You’re indicating that whatever’s going on is not enough to deal with in a text message, and you need to communicate some kind of nasty message by talking. It’s the texting equivalent of “We need to talk,” and uncool. Like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says, texting is for short answers. When you say you need to take it to the phone, you’re indicating, through passive-aggressive texting, that everything is not okay.

Multiple Question Marks

11points also notes that the more question marks you use after a statement, the more passive-aggressive texting you’re engaging in. One is okay. Two can indicate urgency. More than two and you’re into “oh my God, I’m so fucking exasperated” territory without actually saying it. Major passive-aggressive move. If you’re trying to be sincere, use one exclamation point… and soften it with an emoji.

Not Answering At All: The Ultimate Passive-Aggressive Texting

I don’t have time for you. I don’t care. I don’t want to read your message. This, especially when combined with a “text read” function, indicates you either: read the text and DGAF to answer, or when the person knows you have a text read function and don’t use it, says, “I don’t care enough about you to even read your message. Avoid at all costs. At least drop a message like, “Totally slammed, will get back to you [emoji].” Remember: if you’re trying to avoid passive-aggressive texting in this situation, avoid the period, soften with an emoji, and use slang like “totally” or “majorly.”

Then make sure you actually get back to the person. Otherwise you’ll piss them off and they may resort to the multiple-text without a response move.

There’s a few rules. Use them as you will: to indicate passive-aggressive texting, or to avoid it. But however you slice it, these things indicate you’re unhappy. Use them wisely.

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