“I’d love to make witty banter and laugh more when I’m with my friends, but I just don’t know how to be playful in conversation. What does good banter look like, and how can I do it?”
My goal with this guide is to make you a better banterer. We’ll cover what banter is, how to make it, and learn from several examples of banter.
Banter is a form of playful conversation or teasing. When done well, it can be a lot of fun.
It’s important to be clear on what banter is not. It isn’t trading insults, putting someone down, or an excuse for being mean. It’s a two-way interaction between people who see themselves as equals.
The main purpose of banter is to make or deepen a connection between you and another person.
If you watch a group of friends interact, you’ll probably hear a lot of banter. In general, the better you know someone, the safer it is to tease them. Therefore, banter is a sign of intimacy and trust.
Because it requires quick thinking and wit, bantering makes you come across as intelligent and interesting. This is a major bonus if you are talking to someone you find attractive.
In this guide, you’ll learn the basic rules of banter. You’ll also see realistic examples of banter in everyday social situations.
These examples in this section are not scripts you can use word for word. Think of them as inspiration.
Your words and nonverbal communication need to align when you banter.
Specifically, your tone of voice, facial expressions, and gesture all need to make it clear that you’re joking around. Otherwise, you might come off as rude or socially inappropriate.’
Here are some additional things to think about to not get banter wrong:
- Banter should be enjoyable. If everyone is smiling, you’re probably doing OK.
- Don’t banter unless you’re willing to be teased in return. Otherwise, you’ll come across as hypocritical and uptight.
- Don’t base your banter around offensive stereotypes or controversial topics.
- If you know someone has an insecurity, don’t joke about it.
- If your banter makes someone else upset or embarrassed, apologize for hurting their feelings. Don’t become defensive. Say sorry and move on.
It’s not usually a good idea to start bantering with strangers. Make some small talk first to get a sense of their personality. Some people don’t enjoy banter (or jokes in general).
Below are several examples of how to banter:
Here’s an example of a couple who have been happily dating for a few months. The guy wants to tell his girlfriend that he won’t be able to make their regular Friday date (bad news) but that he’ll be free every day the week after (good news).
She starts bantering after his “good news,” implying that she wouldn’t want to hang out with him anyway. By doing this, she’s playfully challenging his assumption that she wants to see him.
Him: So I’ve got some good news and bad news.
Him: The bad news is that I’m going to be away on business next week, so I won’t be around to see you.
Her [grinning]: Are you sure that’s the bad news?
Him: You really know how to make a guy feel appreciated!
Here’s an example of banter between two good friends, Tim and Abby, who have known each other for a long time:
Tim [Seeing Abby’s new very short haircut]: Whoa, what happened to you? Did you cut that yourself, or was your hairdresser half-asleep?
Abby: I don’t think I want to take advice from someone who doesn’t even have any hair.
Tim [squints at Abby]: C’mon, I mean, that cut isn’t even symmetrical!
Abby: There’s a thing called “style,” Tim. I can send you a few articles about it if you like?
If Abby or Tim were very self-conscious about their looks, this banter would be hurtful. However, if Abby and Tim know that the other can both take jokes about their appearance, then it’s a friendly exchange.
Remember: If you aren’t sure whether something is a sensitive topic, joke about something else instead.
Pedantic banter can work well if you haven’t known someone a long time because it relies on wordplay rather than shared experience.
In this example, a man and a woman have just met and are flirting at a party:
Him: Can I ask you a question?
Her [with an arched eyebrow]: You can ask, sure. Whether you’ll get an answer is another matter.
Him: I’ll take a chance.
Her [smiling warmly]: Awesome, I like men who live dangerously.
Depending on the guy’s sense of humor, the second line might come off as irritating or overly sassy. However, if there is mutual attraction, the final line could be a welcome acknowledgment that she likes him.
You can draw on past events for banter if you and the other person already have a history.
In this case, Kate is driving quickly in the car with her friend Matt. Matt is known in their friend group for being a bad driver; he once pulled out of a side street onto the wrong side of the road.
Matt: You always drive way too fast!
Kate: At least I know how to stay on the right side of the road!
Matt [grinning]: Psychologists say it’s not healthy to obsess about stuff that happened ages ago, Kate. Let it go.
Anna considers Jess a close friend, but she sometimes gets tired of Jess’ humblebragging.
In this exchange, she jokingly implies that Jess only goes out so much because she can’t entertain herself. Jess then banters back with a comment about Anna’s last boyfriend.
Jess: It’s so exhausting, going on all these dates with new guys.
Anna: Yeah, just think of the energy you could save if you could bear to sit quietly by yourself for five minutes.
Jess: At least I know how to have fun. The last guy you dated collected random lumps of wood!
Anna: They were NOT random lumps of wood! They were pieces of modern art!
There’s room for cheesy jokes or one-liners when you banter. Just don’t use it often, or you’ll come across as annoying.
Nash: Are you trying to ignore me, or are you deaf?
Robbie: Well, it’s definitely one of those two.
Nash: So are you going to give me an answer?
Robbie [pretends to be deaf, leaning forward with a hand cupped around his ear]: Sorry, what did you say?
Likening someone to another person or character can be fun, as long as everyone understands the reference.
Grace: You’re such a messy eater. It’s like watching the Cookie Monster stuff his face.
Ron: Whatever, everyone likes Cookie Monster! I’d rather be him than [looks meaningfully at Grace] say, Oscar the Grouch.
Grace: Are you saying I’m a grouch?
Ron [tilts his head to one side]: Well, I don’t know for sure. Do you live in a trash can?
By tilting his head to the side for comic effect, Ron makes it clear that he doesn’t seriously wonder whether Grace lives in a trash can. They both know he’s joking around.
The advantages of text banter are that you have more time to think of a response, plus you can use emojis, memes, or GIFs to make your point. The downside is that it’s easy to overthink it.
Don’t be tempted to use lines that you’ve copied and pasted from the internet. Pretend you are talking to them in person. Try to type as you speak, and use emojis or images to emphasize what you’re saying.
Remember that irony often gets lost over text. Be clear that you’re joking to avoid misunderstandings.
Rachel and Hamid have hung out a few times. Rachel once tried to make Hamid dinner, but she messed up the recipe, and they had to get takeout instead. Now Hamid occasionally makes fun of her cooking skills.
Rachel: Got to go. The grocery store closes in 20 min, and I haven’t got anything in for dinner 🙁
Hamid: Just so you know, Deliveroo is a thing now… [shrugging emoji]
Rachel: Sure but no one makes burgers like mine 🙂
Hamid: Haha to be fair, your cooking is truly unforgettable
Rachel: I think someone’s just jealous
Hamid: Unforgettable isn’t always a good thing
Rachel: [GIF of chef]
In many ways, bantering with a crush is the same as bantering with a friend. The same basic rules apply. However, when you banter with someone you find attractive, you can:
- Steer the conversation to personal topics, including dating and relationships
- Use lingering eye contact for a greater sense of intimacy
- Compliment them more often to make it clear that you like them
- Use banter as a warmup before you ask them out on a date
You might also touch them more often than you would touch a friend. This means light touches on their forearm, shoulder, or knee. Pay close attention to how they react. If they move closer or touch you in return, that’s a great sign. If they appear uncomfortable or move away slightly, give them more space.
Let’s look at two examples of how banter can work when you want to flirt.
Giving a compliment with a qualifier lets someone know you’re attracted to them while keeping the conversation light and playful.
In this example, a guy and a girl are hanging out with friends in the park. They are talking about their college days.
Guy: I was kind of awkward in college, so I didn’t really date much, to be honest!
Girl: That’s hard to imagine, I mean you’re probably one of the hottest guys in this park.
Guy: What do you mean, “probably one of…?!”
Girl [pats his arm playfully]: Definitely in the top 10, anyway.
Guy [raises eyebrows]: Do you, like, make official Top 10 lists as a hobby? Is that thing girls do?
In this example, the girl is signaling that she finds the guy attractive, but she qualifies the compliment so that it doesn’t come across as overeager or creepy. In response, the guy banters back, implying that she’s a bit weird to “rank” guys in this way.
This exchange is between a guy and a girl who have been flirting for a while at a mutual friend’s dinner party. Earlier in the evening, he admitted to being a bit of a “neat freak” who likes things “just so,” and she teased him about it.
Now, it’s an hour later. The party is about to end, and the guy wants to set up a date with the girl. They are waiting for their taxis.
Her: Cool party, right?
Him: I know! I’ve met some awesome people. And you, of course.
Her [look of mock outrage]: Ha ha.
Him: I’m joking. Kind of. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Are you free to hang out any time this week?
Her: Thursday evening works for me, if you’re not too busy arranging your cutlery in alphabetical order or something.
Him [getting out his phone so they can exchange numbers]: I think I can probably make space in my schedule.
By making a callback to their earlier conversation and banter about his extreme tidiness, she signals that she’s been paying attention and finds his traits quirky and funny. His final response signals that he’s happy to see her on Thursday without coming across as too keen.
You may have read articles on “negging.” These articles imply that making someone feel bad about themselves will make them like you. Not only is this unkind and unethical, but it’s unlikely to work. Intelligent people with good self-esteem will see through it. What’s more, research shows that most people think negging is harmful and unpleasant. Good banter is much more fun, and it leads to a deeper connection.
You’ll learn how to think on your feet, which is a key skill for making banter. It’s also a good chance to make new friends.
Don’t copy their lines, but observe how they interact with each other. You’ll realize what a difference tone of voice, gesture, and posture can make. Alternatively, discreetly watch pairs or groups of friends in public.
If you can’t think of a comeback or aren’t sure how to respond to banter, fake a look of outrage or shock. This acknowledges the other person’s joke, which will make them feel good. It’s OK if you can’t think of something funny to say every single time. Alternatively, laugh it off and say, “Fine! You win!” No one can banter forever.