Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure)

by Kate Woodford

Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty

Some of the time we are absolutely certain about our opinions and feelings, but now and then we are not. This post looks at the words and phrases that we use to express the fact that we are unsure, either of the way we feel or the way we think.

Sometimes we don’t understand how we feel about something because we seem to experience two opposite emotions or reactions at the same time. A very common phrase for this is mixed feelings/emotions: I had mixed feelings about leaving home – in some ways sad, but also quite excited.

The same idea can be expressed by the adjective ambivalent:

Many were ambivalent about the experience, expressing both positive and negative views.

Most of us have a fairly ambivalent attitude towards the Internet.

An even stronger – and slightly formal – adjective with this meaning is conflicted: If you are conflicted about something, you are confused or unhappy because you have two opposite emotions or opinions at the same time: I still feel conflicted about this decision, pleased that I made it but also regretful at the pain it caused others.

At other times, we are not sure how we feel because one minute we feel or think one way and the next minute, we feel something quite different. An idiom for this is to blow hot and cold. Someone who blows hot and cold keeps changing their mind about a particular subject, (‘hot’ indicating positive feelings and ‘cold’, negative ones): It’s hard to say what Dan thinks about moving to London. He blows hot and cold.

We also feel unsure of our opinions and feelings when we don’t properly understand someone or something. In this situation, we may use one of two phrasal verbs. We might say that we don’t know what to make of someone or something, meaning that we are finding it hard to form an opinion or impression of them: A guy joined our team at work a couple of months ago and I really don’t know what to make of him.

Similarly, we could say that we can’t make someone out: What do you think of Guy Smith? I can’t make him out.

Sometimes, we are unsure about which way to act and this makes us feel confused and unhappy. Someone who is torn is suffering because they cannot choose between two possibilities:

I was torn between staying and going.  

I was torn. Part of me wanted to stay, and part wanted to leave.

An idiom with this meaning is (UK) in two minds/ (US) of two minds: If you are in/of two minds about doing something, you cannot decide whether to do it: I’m in two minds about whether to take the job.

What in your life do you have mixed feelings or feel ambivalent about?

 

18 thoughts on “Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure)

  1. Thank you for this valuable post with which I am now quite sure that my decision was quite the right one to follow you. Kind regards

    Android’de Yahoo Postadan gönderildi 12:01 28 Ara 2016 Çar tarihinde, About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog şunu yazdı: | Kate Woodford posted: “by Kate WoodfordSome of the time we are absolutely certain about our opinions and feelings, but now and then we are not. This post looks at the words and phrases that we use to express the fact that we are unsure, either of the way we feel or the ” | |

  2. Mary Kim

    It is sometimes kind of frustrating. I have a close friend. But I always have conflicted feelings about her personalities. It’s hard for me to make him out.

  3. Hadeel Hammam

    I really can’t make of my husbands’ decision toward our next holiday. He seems torn between travelling abroad and staying in one of the wonderful motels in our countryside. It is a question of money, or the complicated procedures of getting the visa…I don’t know exactly what it is. He just blows hot and cold when I accidentally start to set up the matter with him. He is ambivalent and a decisive view in this issue seems need a long time. I see he needs serenity or tranquility to clear up all these mixed feelings about what we shall do in our conflicted desires the next few months.Please Kate I need your feedback. Are there any mistakes!!

    1. Charles McKinley

      What an excellent paragraph, Hadeel! I found myself about to give you advice for helping your husband decide! As far as the language, though, I would have said “I really can’t make out my husband’s decision” – which would suggest that you cannot understand it because it is vague. If you say “I don’t know what to make of my husband’s decision” it would imply, to me, that he has made a decision and you don’t know how YOU feel about it. I am not at all uncertain of how I feel about your essay, though. It is wonderful! I feel a little bittersweet about closing, since it will be sad to say goodbye, but the coffee is ready and I have plans for New Year’s Day.

      1. Hadeel Hammam

        Charles McKinley, I am fond of writing in English and as you see it is only a practice of using new expressions about mixed feelings. I am happy to hear that my paragraph is excellent. As my husband can’t read in English I made him the hero of my story. Enjoy your coffee and happy new year.Thank you

  4. Pingback: Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure) | Editorials Today

  5. Pingback: Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure) – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Dec 28, 2016) | Editorial Words

  6. Barb

    Hadeel Hammam, is this a real story? Christ… it doesn’t seem you both are of two minds about travelling abroad or staying home, but literally on the edge of a cliff and a tiger right after you.

    1. Hadeel Hammam

      Barb, it is not. but why does it seem like that? “on the edge of a cliff and a tiger right after you” Maybe I miss-express we just live in a warm nest with four chicks. .

  7. Agatha

    What a use topic! I always feel a lack of phrases which express my feelings in proper way. Thank you a lot, I hope you maintain write such interesting articles!

  8. Majid Riaz

    Thanks for this kind effort

    On 28 Dec 2016 4:02 pm, “About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog” wrote: > > Kate Woodford posted: “by Kate Woodford Some of the time we are absolutely certain about our opinions and feelings, but now and then we are not. This post looks at the words and phrases that we use to express the fact that we are unsure, either of the way we feel or the ” >

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