Weighed down or perking up? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 1

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by Liz Walter

Phrasal verbs are a very important part of English (even if students hate them!) and I have written several posts explaining useful ones. I realised recently that there is a surprisingly large number of phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs relating to emotions. Today I am going to concentrate on happiness and sadness. My next post will cover some other emotions, and a final post will present a selection of phrasal verbs for talking more generally about emotions.

If something gets you down, it makes you feel sad, and if you are weighed down with sadness or with problems, you feel worried and upset by them. Interestingly, the second of these phrasal verbs is almost always used in the passive, while the first one almost never is:

These headaches are really starting to get me down.

At that time, he was weighed down with money problems.

There are several phrasal or prepositional verbs connected with crying. If tears come to our eyes, we say that they well up.

I could see tears welling up in his eyes.

If you start to cry suddenly and dramatically, you burst into tears, and if you choke back your tears, you try not to cry:

She read the note and burst into tears.

He was choking back tears as he said goodbye.

Finally, if you are overcome with emotion and start to cry, you break down, and if you appear to enjoy being sad, you wallow in your unhappiness. This is a disapproving term:

When I told him the news, he broke down and cried.

Instead of wallowing in misery, why don’t you try to change your situation?

You will have noticed that the first two sadness phrasal verbs ended with ‘down’, so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that several happiness phrasal verbs end with ‘up’. If you become happier, you cheer up, brighten up, or perk up:

He soon cheered/brightened/perked up when he saw the delicious lunch they had prepared.

If you can see that someone is very happy, you might say that they are brimming over with happiness:

The photo shows him holding his new grandson and brimming over with joy.

Informally, if someone cracks up or if something cracks them up, they start laughing a lot. In UK but not US English, we also say that people fall about or fall about laughing:

Steve is so funny – he cracks me up!

She tried to tell us off, but we just fell about laughing.

Do let me know if you can think of any more phrasal verbs connected with happiness or sadness!

27 thoughts on “Weighed down or perking up? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 1

  1. Godwin

    How about ‘beaming over’? Is there anything like that to mean ‘laughing’? Also I’d like you to talk about the English for talking about relatives like cousin, and is it correct to say cousin brother or sister?

    1. Liz Walter

      Hi – to beam means to do a big smile, but there is no phrasal verb. And we say ‘cousin’ for the children of our parents’ brothers and sisters. If you want to make the gender clear, you have to say something like ‘girl/female cousin’ or ‘boy/male cousin’.

  2. Thank you for the article.

    She tried to tell us off. Is there a similar phrase for TELL OFF? Criticize and reprimand sounds serious. Is there other way to say “tell off?”

    A lump in one’s throat comes to my mind.
    Every time he reflects on his past, he has A LUMP IN HIS THROAT.

    1. Liz Walter

      No, ‘tell off’ is the most common way to say it. ‘Criticize’ is a more general word, and ‘reprimand’ and ‘rebuke’ are rather more formal. And yes ‘to have a lump in your throat’ is a nice idiomatic phrase to describe someone who feels as if they might cry.

  3. Maryem Salama

    This is a wonderful post, which helps me not to bottle up my emotions when I need to word them in a piece of writing, a poem in particular. Thank you, Liz.

  4. Martin Fehres

    Thankyou for this blog. I think words crystallize understanding. Today I had an unusual confrontation. The phrase “falling about” would have given me insight in how the situation may be reversed. It happened at a wedding.
    “Falling about” has given me fresh hindsight.

  5. Thanks for this – useful for my students. Although “crack up”, in UK English at least, can also mean breaking down emotionally, having a break-down, falling apart…

  6. Useful for my students – thank you! Talking of which “crack up” in UK English at least can also mean to break down psychologically – “fall apart” has a similar meaning. Got to love phrasal verbs!

  7. Chiara Coombs

    Thank you for ALL of your useful and relevant posts with clear examples. I use them in my speaking programs and 1:1 lessons to help my students have better conversations with Americans. I’m wondering if you have a list of all of the blog posts so I can easily find them. I’d love to create a list with links categorized by topic. Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to you comment.

    1. Liz Walter

      HI Chiara – I’m so pleased you find the posts useful. I don’t have a list, but if you click on my name at the top of the post, you can access all my posts – you will see the heading and first paragraph of each. I hope that will help.

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