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?