Puzzled or pitying? Words for facial expressions, part 1


by Kate Woodford

Have you ever given anyone a withering look (= a disapproving look intended to make them feel ashamed)? Of course you haven’t – you’re far too kind! But you may have shot someone a curious (= showing interest) look when they told you something you didn’t know. By now, you’ve probably guessed that this week’s post is about facial expressions. There are lots of useful adjectives for describing these so this post will be in two parts. Note that many of these adjectives are also used with –ly as adverbs.

An inquiring/enquiring look shows that you want to know more about something: She looked at me with an enquiring expression and I tried to explain what I meant. / He looked at her enquiringly. If someone looks thoughtful, their face shows they are thinking carefully about something: He looked thoughtful for a moment and then replied. / She nodded thoughtfully.

A puzzled look shows that you are confused because you don’t understand something: He was staring at the instructions with a puzzled look on his face. Quizzical, meanwhile, describes an expression that is both confused and questioning: He listened to what she was saying with a quizzical look on his face. / He frowned at her, quizzically.

An appealing look is intended to get someone to help you or do something for you: She turned to him with an appealing expression. / The little dog looked appealingly at its owner who was eating a burger. The adjective imploring is stronger and shows that you urgently want someone to do something for you: It was her imploring face – I found I couldn’t refuse her.

If someone looks startled, they look suddenly shocked or frightened by something: I wasn’t expecting to see a face at the window. I probably looked startled! Slack-jawed describes someone whose mouth is open in amazement: Passers-by stood still, slack-jawed in disbelief, as she started to sing.

A person with a smug expression looks pleased with themselves about something they have achieved, in a way that is annoying to others: I knew he was right but I just couldn’t bear his smug expression.

A pitying look shows you feel sympathy for someone else’s situation, sometimes in a way that shows a lack of respect: I was aware of the pitying stares of other drivers, but no one stopped to help me.

In the next post about facial expressions we’ll look at words for worried and sad expressions, among others.

16 thoughts on “Puzzled or pitying? Words for facial expressions, part 1

  1. Juliana

    I shot a curious look at my laptop as soon as I read the appealing title. My boyfriend gave me a puzzled look. He just can´t understand why I love this blog. I said that it is because one can´t be luckier in learning new words in such a pleasant way. He was slack-jawed.

  2. Eva

    Is ‘to give someone a wary look’ a suitable expression to use when a person senses that they are in danger?

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