Pained and sheepish: Facial expressions, part 2

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by Kate Woodford

This is the second post of our two-parter on words that are used to describe facial expressions. In the first post, we looked at adjectives for expressions showing interest and surprise. This week, we look at words for sad and anxious expressions, among others.

Starting with unhappy expressions, someone who looks haunted shows signs of past suffering in their face: Even now, I can still remember that haunted look in his eyes. A doleful or mournful expression is very sad: In both pictures, he wears a doleful expression. / She gazed out of the window with a mournful look on her face.

Moving on to worried expressions, someone with a hunted look appears anxious and frightened, as if expecting trouble: He had a hunted look about him and was clearly uncomfortable with the questions.

A brooding expression is very serious and suggests that someone is thinking deeply about something worrying: The photos show a gaunt young man with a brooding expression in his dark eyes.

And what about angry expressions? Sullen describes the look of a person who seems angry and unwilling to speak, in a way that is slightly rude: He brought with him two sullen-faced teenagers. A glowering look is very angry: I was aware of his glowering presence at the back of the hall.

Meanwhile, a pained expression shows that a person is finding an experience unpleasant or annoying. (Note that it doesn’t usually suggest that someone is feeling physical pain.) Throughout the interview, she wore a pained expression.

Someone who looks very ashamed about something they have done may be described as shamefaced: He sat there looking shamefaced, with his head slightly bowed. The adjective sheepish is similar, though less strong, describing someone who looks slightly embarrassed about something that they’re responsible for: ‘Yes, I know I shouldn’t have said it,’ he said with a sheepish grin.

Of course, faces don’t always show emotion. A vacant or blank expression shows no interest or emotion and suggests that someone isn’t noticing what is happening: I had no idea what he was thinking or feeling. His face was blank. / My attempt at humour was greeted by vacant expressions. A glazed expression is also without interest or emotion and often suggests that someone is very bored (or sometimes ill): Noticing her glazed expression, he cut short the explanation.

Finally, a mischievous expression suggests that someone has deliberately done something slightly bad to someone else, usually for fun. It is often used of children: The photo showed a red-haired little boy with a mischievous grin.

That concludes my two-part post on facial expressions. I hope you’ve learnt some interesting words!

4 thoughts on “Pained and sheepish: Facial expressions, part 2

  1. When someone has an empty or blank face, it indicates that they are not interested or emotionally involved in what is happening: I had no way of knowing what he was thinking or feeling. He had a blank expression on his face. I was met with blank stares as I attempted to be amusing.

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