English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Are they the same, meaning to make people feel emotional?

share|improve this question
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The standard phrase or idiom is tug at one's heartstrings:

one's heartstrings
used in reference to one's deepest feelings of love or compassion:
the kitten's pitiful little squeak tugged at her heartstrings


Also, NOAD defines tug thus:

pull (something) hard or suddenly

Thus, when something tugs at (pulls at) your heartstrings, it deeply affects your feelings in some way (a prick, a pang, etc).

share|improve this answer

"Tug (or 'pull') at one's heartstrings" is an established idiom. "Tug at one's heart", is not, though it is a perfectly valid expression, with the right meaning.

Your question is slightly ambiguous, because of the word "make": to be clear, it is the thing that elicits compassion (which might be a person, an action, or an event) which "tugs at your heartstrings". You wouldn't use it of the person who was doing an action, unless they elicited compassion in themselves.

"Heartstrings" is pretty well obsolete, apart from this expression (the OED has no examples since 1896, though the entry was updated in 1989).

share|improve this answer
+1 for saying "Tug at one's heart" is "a perfectly valid expression, with the right meaning." – Jimi Oke Mar 28 '11 at 15:53

This refers to the "Chordae tendineae" (chords of tendon) or the strings of tissue in hearts which keeps blood from filling the heart when it is trying to pump blood. This is the organic referent to the phrase.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chordae_tendineae Also, found in my Anatomy and Physiology lecture.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to English Language & Usage! This is really a comment, not an answer as it doesn't address the OP's question about the two phrases.. With a bit more rep, you will be able to post comments. – SuperBiasedMan Feb 27 at 20:22
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review – rand al'thor Feb 28 at 14:51

protected by Rathony Feb 28 at 3:55

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.