Sobbing or pouring your heart out (‘Heart’ senses and phrases, Part 3)

a little boy is crying as his mother holds and comforts him
Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

In the last of these three ‘heart’ posts I’ll be looking at phrases for expressing emotions. There are quite a lot and I won’t be able to cover them all so if you can think of a useful ‘heart’ idiom or phrase on this theme that I haven’t included, do please leave a note below.

‘Heart’ features in a number of idioms that convey something relating to sadness. For example, the phrase cry/sob your heart out is used to emphasize how much someone is crying:

I found poor Ellie sobbing her heart out in her bedroom.

Something that causes you to feel great sadness for another person can be described as heart-rending or heart-wrenching:

The little girl made a heart-rending plea for the release of her father.

It’s the heart-wrenching story of a child caught between his warring parents.

If you do something with a heavy heart, you do it sadly and reluctantly:

It was with a heavy heart that I hung up my football boots for the last time.

I left New York with a heavy heart.

If you feel very sad for someone who is in a difficult situation you can say your heart goes out to them, your heart aches for them or your heart bleeds for them:

I know what it’s like to watch your child suffer so my heart goes out to them.

My heart aches for the parents of the missing boy.

My heart bleeds for this little boy who will never know his mother.

You can also use this last phrase sarcastically to mean that you feel no sympathy for someone, especially a rich person who only has to deal with a small problem:

It must be terrible for him having to sell one of his four houses. My heart bleeds for him.

If you pour your heart out or open your heart to someone, you talk to someone emotionally for a long time, telling them all about how you feel:

Later that evening, she poured her heart out about her failed marriage.

Over a drink, he opened his heart to me.

Someone who makes their feelings obvious, making no attempt to hide them, may be said to wear their heart on their sleeve:

Rick wears his heart on his sleeve – he always has done.

Finally, a heart-to-heart or a heart-to-heart chat/discussion, etc. is a conversation between two people in which they talk seriously and explain their true feelings:

I made the decision after a heart-to-heart with my sister.

We had a heart-to-heart chat and I got a few things off my chest. 

That concludes my three-part post on ‘heart’ senses and phrases. I hope you found some senses or phrases that were new to you.

35 thoughts on “Sobbing or pouring your heart out (‘Heart’ senses and phrases, Part 3)

  1. chetkash

    these types of teaching are the very needed ones for any types of learners of the language.we have been seeking for these knowledge. thank you so much.

  2. Denis

    What a fabulous completion of the thread! Furthermore, I’ll contribute by adding fairly colourful, albeit a bit old-fashioned, saying ‘Faint heart never won fair maiden.’

  3. Kiko

    Hi, Kate! I love your articles.
    I always have trouble with ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ in translating Japanese to English. Because Japanese has the word ‘heart’ and ‘head’ but not ‘mind,’ for feeling and responding faculties. We feel heart is in our chest, but, what do you feel about your ‘mind’? Is it in your chest, or in your head? Anyway, you showed us that English speakers use many ‘heart’ words and phrases in this series, I felt closer to English speakers.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Kiko! Thanks for this interesting question. You’ve made me look again at the ‘mind’ idioms and phrases in our dictionary. It seems to me that most relate to the brain in some way – thinking, deciding, forgetting and remembering and so on. For me, the mind is very much a head thing. I hope that helps! Best wishes from Cambridge.

  4. Irfan

    Thanks for your way of teaching.please throw light on situational spoken English sentences for the benefit of non native speakers like me.

  5. Abdelazim Ahmed

    First, thanks a lot for the post.
    What’s your opinion about this article, which is taken from the net:

    *Heart-rending and Gut-wrenching*

    Although widely used by a great many speakers, an expression that makes me cringe is “heart-wrenching.”

    Gut-wrenching is fine. Guts twist, both literally and figuratively. And in the bad old days people had their innards pulled out as a form of torture and execution, hence the verb to disembowel and the expression to draw and quarter.

    To me, something described as “gut-wrenching” is frightening, the way it’s used in this reader’s comment:

    _In a mystery the reader is trying to figure out what is going on and the puzzle is more of a brain teaser, but not a gut-wrenching life and death struggle_.

    “Heart-wrenching,” on the other hand, always strikes my ears as mistake for heart-rending.

    I suppose that an argument could be made for either heart-rending or “heart-wrenching,” but it seems to me that when someone says, “The sight of the displaced earthquake victims was heart-rending,” the emotion felt is probably more gentle than the violent word wrench would suggest.

    wrench: trans. To twist or turn (a thing) forcibly or with effort; to jerk or pull with a violent twist

    A strong argument against “heart-wrenching” is that neither the OED nor Merriam-Webster includes it, while both the British and American dictionaries have entries for heart-rending/heartrending.

    heart-rending: That rends the heart; terribly distressing. So heart-rending vbl. n., terrible distress, pangs of anguish; heart-rending adv.

    heartrending: causing intense grief, anguish, or pain

    I suggest reserving wrenching attached to gut for things that cause fear, and rending with heart to describe emotional pain caused by the sight of something truly piteous.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi there! That’s interesting – thanks! Actually, I think the two phrases are used pretty much interchangeably, certainly in UK English. As to whether one sounds gentler than the other, I’d always assumed the ‘rending’ part was from the verb ‘rend’, meaning ‘to tear violently’, so both are fairly violent. I hope that helps with your question. Best wishes from Cambridge.

    2. Jasmeet

      Well, every person has own perspective… here I just want to say that expressions which are combined with hyphen, do not carry exact meaning of each part such as in ‘follow-up’. ‘ Follow- up means questioning or discussion to extract further information about something, and not following upward. These are somewhat like idiomatic expressions which render some implied meaning, not word to word meaning.
      As far as ‘ Heart- wrenching ‘ is concerned, heart points out a specific body organ associated with reserving human emotions like happiness or sadness. Thus, when heart- wrenching occurs that obviously is linked to extreme sadness. And in gut- wrenching, gut is not any organ, it is something which can only be felt and not expressed…. That’s why, gut- wrenching leaves a person shocked or upset, not frightened.

  6. Mouhiddine

    Thank you very much indeed for these exciting expressions. I have some useful phrases expressing emotions as follows:
    1- From the bottom of one’s heart. For example, from the bottom of my heart, I made a plea for mercy to the court to reconsider the sentencing it pronounced against my elder brother for a felony he did not commit.
    2- To put some heart into something. For example, I am sure if you put some heart into the song, it will be a hit worldwide in the coming months.
    3- To have a heart of gold/stone. For example, he has a heart of gold as he loves to help people around him. He has a heart of stone as he mistreats employees in the office he runs.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! Those are nice heart idioms – thanks. (Actually, ‘heart of gold’ is in Part 1 so you might want to take a look at that post?) Best wishes from Cambridge.

  7. Jobz

    Hello Kate, many thanks for these lovely posts about heart idioms. You definitely thought of this one “Eat your heart out”, reckon you didn’t want to include it in your posts for it might sound a bit graphic for an idiom.

    1. Kate Woodford

      That’s a great ‘heart’ idiom – thanks! I suspect I didn’t include it because it didn’t belong in any of the groups that I came up with. But it’s a good one, so thanks for mentioning it here. Best wishes.

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