Vocabulary in English

27 Words for Facial Expressions in English

27 Words for Facial Expressions in English

You’re about to learn 27 words for facial expressions in English. You might also like 60 Negative Emotion Adjectives to Describe Negative Feelings.

Facial expressions can tell us how other people are feeling.

They’re a very important part of how we communicate with each other.

Let’s look at different ways of looking happy, sad and confused, plus other facial expressions with your mouth, eyes, nose and your whole face.

Free test - Gymglish with Clark and Miller

Ways of smiling

Smile

smile (facial expression)

What does it mean?

OK. We all know what this means, right?

Good. Let’s move on!

Examples, please!

You can use “smile” as a verb:

“The old woman on the bus spent the whole journey looking and smiling at me.”

Or a noun — often with “on his face”:

“As soon as he walked into the room with that smile on his face, I knew we’d won.”

Grin

grin (facial expression)

What does it mean?

You know that feeling when you smile a lot, and you just can’t control it?

That’s a grin: a big smile — sometimes out of your control.

Examples, please!

Again, you can use it as a verb. Like most of the verbs in this post, use “at” if you want to add an object:

“Stop grinning at me like that and just tell me what happened!”

When we use “grin” as a noun, we can go for the phrase “ear-to-ear.”

“She ran around with an ear-to-ear grin on her face, holding her new toy.”

Beam

beam (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Normally, a beam is just a ray of light.

So when you’re beaming, you’re smiling so much it’s like there’s light coming out of you.

Examples, please!

“Have you seen Alex? She’s been beaming all day. I wonder what happened last night?”

Smirk

smirk (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Some people are kind of evil.

Like Tony from my negative personality adjectives lesson:

Tony - Mr Self-Important

When Tony smiles at you, you know it’s not a good smile.

When Tony smiles at you, he’s really saying, “Haha! You think that’s a good idea? Well, I think you’re stupid!”

It’s THAT smile.

Examples, please!

As usual, use “at.”

“Don’t just sit there and smirk at me like that! Tell me what you’re thinking!”

We also have this phrase:

Wipe that smirk off your face, will you?”

And like all the smiles, we can add “on your face”:

“Why has he always got that horrible smirk on his face? Can’t he just smile nicely or just not at all?”

Sneer

sneer (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is similar to “smirk.”

Examples, please!

“I tried to talk to the boss about the new ideas during the meeting, but he just sat there and sneered at me whenever I tried to say anything. I think he doesn’t like me.”

While we’re here, did you notice that we use “smirk” and “sneer” with phrases like “Don’t just sit there and …” or “He just sat there and …”

But why? Why are we talking about sitting?

Well, when someone’s doing something useless or unpleasant (or both), we can add the phrase “just sit there and …” (or “just stand there and …”).

When we do this, we’re drawing attention the fact that this person is not being very helpful.

Other mouth facial expressions

Pursed lips

purse your lips (facial expression)

What does it mean?

When you bring your lips into your mouth.

Sometimes it’s when you’re angry with someone.

Or sometimes it’s when you’re concentrating on something.

Or sometimes it’s when you’re worried about something.

Examples, please!

“His pursed lips told me something was wrong.”

Pout

pout (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is basically the opposite of pursed lips.

When you purse your lips, you bring them inside.

When you pout, you push them out. (It rhymes, so it must be true.)

Think about Instagram photos and teenagers who don’t get what they want.

And especially of teenagers who don’t get what they want and then put a selfie on Instagram to complain about it.

They’re seriously just the worst, aren’t they?

Examples, please!

“You won’t get what you want just by sitting there and pouting.”

Your jaw dropped

jaw dropped (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Imagine you’re walking along the street, and you suddenly see an elephant selling insurance. How do you think you’d react?

You’d certainly feel shocked, right?

And your mouth — what do you think would happen to your mouth?

It would be wide open, wouldn’t it?

The sight of the insurance-selling elephant would cause your jaw (the lower part of your mouth) to drop (or open).

Examples, please!

OK. So you can just use the verb:

“His jaw is going to drop when he sees what we’ve done to his car!”

But we also have the adjective “jaw-dropping” to describe something really impressive or amazing.

“The election? What a jaw-dropping experience. No one would’ve thought that THAT guy would win!”

Stick your tongue out

stick your tongue out (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Take your tongue (not with your hands, please) and put it outside your mouth.

Examples, please!

Like with many facial expressions, you can add “at” if you want to direct the gesture towards someone.

“The kids took my wallet straight out of my pocket, stuck their tongues out at me and ran off laughing.”

You can also say “poke your tongue out”:

“Did you see what that monkey just …? I promise you! It just poked its tongue out at me!”

Facial expressions with your eyebrows

Just so we all know what eyebrows are, here are a pair of bushy ones:

Bushy eyebrows
eyebrows.jpg by Jen | CC BY 2.0

Raise your eyebrows

raise your eyebrows (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Move your eyebrows upwards.

If you do this, you might be surprised.

Or you might be doing that expression that says, “Yes, yes, yes. You saw a horse with five legs. The thing is, I don’t believe you.”

Examples, please!

Again, if you want to include the object of the sentence, use “at.”

“Don’t raise your eyebrows at me like that! I swear! It had five legs. And two heads. I’m not making this up!”

So the subject can be the person whose eyebrows are raised.

But if we want to talk about some shocking or surprising news, for example, we can use “the news” as the subject:

“The news of the marriage between the rival gang members raised eyebrows.”

Raise an eyebrow

raise an eyebrow (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is different from “raise your eyebrows.”

When you raise both eyebrows, your face is saying “Wow! I’m shocked!”

When you just raise one, it’s much cooler.

It’s like your face is saying, “Hey! I see what you’re doing. I don’t quite understand it, but I’m still in complete control here.”

Examples, please!

“When I told her I was making ice-cream curry for dinner, she raised an eyebrow at me.”

Frown

frown (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Do the opposite of raising your eyebrows.

Bring them down so you look angry.

Congratulations! Now you’re frowning!

Examples, please!

Again — you can use “at”:

“He just sat there and frowned at the piece of paper for hours before suddenly jumping out of his chair and running out of the room. What a strange doctor.”

Facial expressions with your eyes

Wide-eyed

wide-eyed (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is an adjective, and we use it to describe someone’s face when they have their eyes completely open — usually because they’re shocked or amazed by something.

Examples, please!

We often use “wide-eyed” to describe youth or people who have little experience of the big, bad world.

“When we got off the bus, we were immediately surrounded by friendly, wide-eyed kids.”

We can also use it as an adverb:

“‘Is that your real hair?’ she asked me, wide-eyed.”

Squint

squint (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Close your eyes about 80 percent of the way.

That’s squinting.

You probably do it when you go out without your sunglasses on a sunny day.

Or if you’re looking at someone you hate.

Examples, please!

“His writing was so small that the whole class was squinting at the board trying to read it.”

Sideways glance

sideways glance (facial expression)

What does it mean?

When you look at someone next to you without moving your head.

Examples, please!

A sideways glance can be something positive or something negative.

When you’re kind of suspicious of someone, but in a playful way, you can give them a sideways glance:

“‘You’re not a professional footballer! I don’t believe you!’ she said with a sideways glance.”

But it can also happen when you don’t trust someone, and even when you want to be quite aggressive:

“I caught his sideways glance and immediately knew he didn’t want to work with me on this.”

There are a few common verbs you can use with this:

“She cast him a sideways glance.”

“Eric shot his father a sideways glance and went back to his newspaper.”

“I saw you throw me a sideways glance! I hate it when you do that!”

Roll your eyes

roll your eyes (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Quick! Look up at the inside of your head!

That’s it! You’ve just rolled your eyes.

It’s that expression we use when we think someone’s being stupid or annoying.

Examples, please!

“So I went to the embassy to report my stolen passport, and the guy there just rolled his eyes at me! Ridiculous!”

Wink

wink (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Quickly close one eye and open it again.

That’s it — you’ve winked!

This means slightly different things in different cultures, but in my experience, when someone winks at you, they’re basically saying, “Hey! I’m on your side!”

Sometimes it can even mean “Don’t worry! I won’t tell anyone — this can be our little secret!”

Examples, please!

“Charlie paid for his bag of sweets. Just as he was leaving, the shopkeeper handed him a Plonka Bar and winked at him.”

By the way, I heard that you really shouldn’t wink at people in Pakistan. It’s considered quite aggressive.

Give someone a dirty look

dirty look (facial expression)

What does it mean?

What do you do when someone does something you really hate?

Or when they’ve just said something horrible to you?

You look at them in an angry way, right? You want them to know you’re not happy.

That’s a dirty look.

Examples, please!

“Don’t ask that guy for help. I just asked him the time, and he threw me this really dirty look!”

Look down your nose at someone

look down your nose (facial expression)

What does it mean?

There are some people in this world who somehow think they’re superior — that they’re better than everyone else.

Remember Tony?

Here he is again, looking down his nose at everyone else:

A Patronising Man

Examples, please!

“That shop sucks! All the staff just sort of look down their noses at you. Not fun shopping.”

Glazed over

glazed over (facial expression)

What does it mean?

You know when someone’s talking to you, and it’s just not interesting at all.

Sometimes you start staring into space and imagining building a castle made of chocolate.

Or you start thinking about what to buy from the shops that evening.

Either way — whether it’s chocolate castles or supermarkets — the other person can see in your eyes that you’re somewhere else.

Because your eyes have glazed over.

Examples, please!

“I started talking to him about the best way to avoid traffic on the M25 during Friday evening rush hour, but his eyes just glazed over.”

Facial expressions with your nose

Wrinkle your nose

wrinkle your nose (facial expression)

What does it mean?

When did you last say, “Eugh! That food stinks!”?

Try to remember how your face looked.

It’s that face we make when we feel something in between disapproval and complete disgust.

Examples, please!

“The kids showed their auntie their drawings, but she just wrinkled her nose at them. She’s not very good with kids.”

Facial expressions with your whole face

Long face

long face (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is basically an unhappy expression.

It’s the opposite of a smile.

Examples, please!

Let’s say you run into one of your friends, and she’s looking quite unhappy.

You want to ask her why she looks sad.

So you can say:

“Hey! Why the long face?”

This leads me to a very famous and very bad joke:

“A horse walks into a bar, and the barman says, ‘Why the long face?’”

Haha!

Blank expression

blank expression (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is also known as “poker face.”

When someone just doesn’t show any emotion or expression at all.

You just can’t read them.

Examples, please!

We can use “don’t just sit there with …” with this expression:

Don’t just sit there with that blank expression on your face! Say something!”

You can also use it with the verb “have”:

“Have you met Yami? She’s the one who constantly has a blank expression on her face. Aliens could land outside her café, and she wouldn’t look surprised.”

Grimace

grimace (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is when you make a particularly ugly face as a reaction to something.

Maybe you’re disgusted at something, like while watching Cannibal Holocaust or Texas Chainsaw Massacre or some other ridiculously violent film.

Maybe you disapprove of something, like when you hear that your best friend has started going out with Tony, even though he’s the worst man in the world.

Or maybe it’s out of fear of something you need to do, like when you’ve just been told that you’ll have to swim across that alligator river again.

Examples, please!

We often use “grimace” with “make”:

“Every time he wears those green shorts, it makes me grimace. I can’t help it!”

It can be a verb:

“As soon as they walked into the room, she grimaced.”

Or a noun — sometimes with “on her face”:

“With a grimace on her face, she stood up and walked onto the stage.”

Wince

wince (facial expression)

What does it mean?

A grimace is a big, obvious expression.

And a wince is like a mini grimace.

It isn’t easy to spot, and it’s often gone in a few seconds.

Examples, please!

A wince is often associated with pain:

“He pulled the knife out of his arm with just a wince of pain and then jumped off the waterfall into the river and beat up a crocodile.”

A lot of examples I found also talk about avoiding wincing:

“Emma tried not to wince, but the pain was just too much.”

Neutral expression

neutral expression (facial expression)

What does it mean?

This is the same as a blank expression.

You just can’t tell what this person is thinking.

Examples, please!

We often use the phrase “met with a neutral expression.”

“I told the cop that my bike had been stolen, but I was met with a neutral expression. She then said that I shouldn’t have parked it outside that notorious bowling alley.”

Quizzical expression

quizzical (facial expression)

What does it mean?

Have you noticed that thing that YouTubers use for the preview image of their videos?

They’re always looking either shocked or quizzical.

You know, that expression that says “Hmmm… That’s interesting, but how did it happen? I’m a bit confused but also interested!”

Possibly with one finger on their lips and with their eyebrows raised.

Examples, please!

We often use the phrase “with a quizzical expression on her face.”

“She looked down and saw the cat looking up at her with a quizzical expression on its face. She had no idea what on earth it wanted.”


OK! Good work!

There were a lot of phrases here, but don’t go crazy! If a lot of these were new, just choose your favourite three and try to remember them and use them. Then you can come back for more!

Meanwhile, let’s practice!

Take a look at these questions:

  1. What makes you grimace?
  2. What’s it like dealing with bureaucracy in your country? How often do you get met with blank expressions and rolling eyes?

Answers in the comments.

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10 thoughts on “27 Words for Facial Expressions in English

  1. I like it very much. These are daily expressions that we don’t find them in grammar books.so they are really priceless. I enjoyed it . Thanks a million.

  2. i JUST LOVED ALL YOUR EXPRESSIONS. loved reading your sentences too.
    MY name is SUSAN and i teach English for my school students. i must say i got motivated
    reading these expressions.

  3. Dear Gabriel,
    I love to pen a few lines .i hope you liked this quote of mine.
    Life is not a Mid Summer’s nights’dream,
    Nor a Tempest’,
    In fact it is a Comedy of Errors,
    So take it As you like it.

    Send me your facial expressions on each of these lines. This is a test for you.
    This is my expression of life.

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