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What do you call this facial expression that forms just before bursting into tears? (Especially when a baby has been treated in a way he/she didn't expect and consider it unfair or feels neglected. Of course this pitiful and sad expression with lower lip protrusion is most commonly seen in younger kids; and is not acceptable for adults or they will be considered to react childish.)

Actually I need to know the answer to complete these sentences :

"When the father yelled angrily at the baby, he (the baby) ..(?) and then burst into tears. "

"When the mom took the toy from the baby, he ...(?) and cried."

enter image description here

enter image description here

PS: We have a phrasal verb in Farsi for describing this state and we use it for kids or adults, but when we hear it about a kid we would definitely think of a baby with this facial expression specially with the protruded lower lip. For adults, we would think of them in the state just before bursting into tears, for example; some winners react like this when they recieve their awards or when they are about to make a speech.

Note: Since I need to complete those sentences and they are about kids, if I know the term used for talking about/ referring to this kids' facial expression or state, that would solve my problem.

enter image description here

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please clarify whether you want 'sulkiness' or 'hopeless sadness'. – Dan Jan 18 at 23:35
That top kid looks way past pouting. Kid looks forlorn. – DCShannon Jan 19 at 1:54
I want " sulkiness", @Dan. – Soudabeh Jan 19 at 2:07
It turned out that my answer (a lump in the throat) wasn't to the point, so I deleted it, and my comment up here too. But I left my criticism under Josh's answer. And tell you one thing: there may not be an exact term for this state in English (as suggested in this answer and this one), but we will wait hopefully. :) – Færd Jan 20 at 3:12
Babies do pout before they start to cry, but I personally don't pout at this stage (anymore!). I purse my lips and clench my jaw (as if to hold back), flush and blush, well up a bit, and then maybe start the waterworks, or maybe swallow the whole damn thing (ie, the lump). – Færd Jan 20 at 19:32

21 Answers 21

up vote 45 down vote accepted

Quiver: tremble involuntary, the action the lower lip does when a person is about to burst into tears or sob loudly.

  • His lower lip began to quiver, his face contorted, and the tears began.
  • Tears welled from his eyes now, his lower lip quivering...
  • ... her lower lip quivered, her eyes were puffy and red. She was on the brink of crying again.

Puckered: to draw together, crease, fold, and wrinkled. How a person's face appears when they can't hold back their tears.

  • the child’s face puckered, ready to cry
  • Speaking to the infant in a pitiful, compassionate voice, he said, “Oh! is the baby hurt? Poor thing. What did you do? Does it hurt? Show it to Mama.” Sure enough, my happy little cousin puckered up, started crying and made his way to his mother for emotional support.

  • The child puckered up her mouth in an effort to stop the tears but it was useless. They flowed down her dirt streaked cheeks...

Oxford Dictionaries: pucker, quiver

Clair Danes, alias Carrie Mathison in the TV series Homeland, mastering the lower-lip quiver

enter image description here

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Google Books Results for: "face puckered" cry tears and "lower lip quivered" cry tears – Mari-Lou A Jan 19 at 9:38
Image results: "professional lower lip quiver". – Mazura Jan 20 at 5:37
Ah dammit, might as well play the quivering lip GIF card: Clare Danes, "professional bottom lip trembler" from the TV series, Homeland – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 at 18:24
@Mari-LouA - It's striking that none of the OED citations for pucker (verb) connect the meaning draw together or contract into wrinkles, bulges, or folds with crying or being upset. oed.com/view/Entry/… – Dan Jan 22 at 10:09
@Mari-LouA - Mind you, neither do the citations for crumple (verb) -To become incurved or crushed together; to contract and shrivel up; to become creased or wrinkled by being crushed together - oed.com/view/Entry/…; – Dan Jan 22 at 10:18

"When the mom took the toy from the baby, ..."

"When the father yelled angrily at the baby, ..."

his (little) face crumpled and then he burst into inconsolable tears.

Crumple - to become incurved or crushed together; to contract and shrivel up; to become creased or wrinkled by being crushed together (OED) - suggests the important (as I see it) involuntary aspect of the facial expressions in the images.

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"his little face crumpled" Well that certainly captures the 'noooo don't cry :c' feeling you get when you see someone with that face. – QPaysTaxes Jan 19 at 20:09
I like this one because pout doesn't quite capture the "about to rain tears of joy" feeling. – BleepBloopOverflow Jan 21 at 21:03
Google books result for "face crumpled" cry tears google.co.uk/#tbm=bks&q=%22face+crumpled%22+cry+tears – Dan Jan 22 at 10:02
Her mouth puckered, and she started to cry., His face puckered, and he was ready to cry, and Her ​mouth puckered and I ​thought she was going to ​cry. All three examples are taken from three separate dictionary entries. Are you really sure that OED never mentions crying with "pucker". I don't have a subscription, so I cannot check. – Mari-Lou A Jan 22 at 11:39
I like crumple the most because not only does it externally relate to how the face looks but it also relates to what is happening internally as their spirit [or at least composure] is crushed by their hurt [or joy?], for at least a moment. – DoubleDouble Jan 22 at 20:38

The term is to pout:

  • to ​push the ​lower ​lip ​forward to show you are ​annoyed, or to ​push both ​lips ​forward in a ​sexually ​attractive way:

    • Vanessa always pouts if she doesn't get what she ​wants. Caroline pouts her ​lips when she's putting on ​lipstick.
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Hmm... d'you not think pouting has a stubborn dimension; a wish to assert. The pictures suggest that all resistance has been worn down - defeat and hopelessness. – Dan Jan 18 at 23:33
Just checked the OED - To thrust out or protrude the lips, esp. so as to express petulance or sulkiness, or in order to make oneself sexually attractive; to show displeasure; to sulk. – Dan Jan 18 at 23:34
Not sad enough. An appropriate answer to this question must not miss the fact that these children are about to burst into tears. – Færd Jan 19 at 3:52
@Fard Within context, I think pout can certainly be sad enough. "The baby pouted then burst into tears" – ghoppe Jan 19 at 17:04
When I hear the word "pout", I think of the aloof or petulant expression that fashion models use. Pout describes the position of the lip but doesn't imply sadness or elicit sympathy or pathos the way a complete answer to this question would - if anything, it implies stubbornness (which is what a pout looks like when the person isn't also welling up) – user568458 Jan 20 at 16:07

Welling up.

"When the father yelled angrily at the baby ,he welled up and then burst into tears. "

"When the mom took the toy from the baby, he welled up and cried."

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This is the only answer that's correct, rather than merely helpful. – Sean D Jan 23 at 17:10
"Welling up" refers to tears beginning to form in one's eyes, as if drawn up from a well, rather than the appearance of one's face prior to crying. – Dr. Funk Jan 28 at 17:45

The expression is called a pout:

Push one’s lips or one’s bottom lip forward as an expression of petulant annoyance or in order to make oneself look sexually attractive.

In the case of children, it's the former definition, of course.

Pout (as a noun meaning a facial expression) appears to be not as old as the verb form. The first recorded use (from Chambers) is ca. 1591 in Nash's Astrologicall Prognostication:

enter image description here

As a verb, it was known as early as 1300. One of the most familiar fairly early appearances (1592) is in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench, Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love.

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Grimace : a facial expression usually of disgust, disapproval, or pain - M-W

With reference to your sample sentences:

"When the father yelled angrily at the baby, he (the baby) grimaced and then burst into tears. "

"When the mom took the toy from the baby, he grimaced and cried."

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I don't think grimaced is appropriate in either of these examples. – 5arx Jan 22 at 11:48
@5arx What would you call it? – Lawrence Jan 22 at 11:58
I'm still thinking about it, but I definitely think grimace is a bad fit here. – 5arx Jan 22 at 12:50

Each of these pictured children has a petted lip (noun).

The term is very well understood in Ireland/Scotland, but I'm not sure about elsewhere!

Quoting Dictionary of the Scots Language

petted lip: The sign of a spoilt or sulky child, that is, the lower lip protruding in front of the upper lip:

Never mind the petted lip. You're not going and that's that.

Also from Oxford English Dictionary:

petted - Offended or sulky at feeling slighted or ill-used; piqued; pettish. Now chiefly in petted lip n. the protrusion of the lower lip in front of the upper, a pout.

As a verb, one could say :

"When the father yelled angrily at the baby, he petted his lip and then burst into tears. ".

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Hm. Semantically related to "petulant", I'm guessing. – keshlam Jan 19 at 3:03
@keshlam: actually, I'm wondering if it's just a different pronunciation of pout. (For the record, I've never heard of "petted lip".) – Marthaª Jan 20 at 21:46
Google for "petted lip" images and compare to 'pouted lip' images; the results are significantly different. – k1eran Jan 21 at 1:02

I suggest "cloud up":

cloud up: 1. Lit. [for the sky] to get cloudy, as if it were going to rain. 2. Fig. [for someone] to grow very sad, as if to cry.

Source: The Free Dictionary

"When the father yelled angrily at the baby, he clouded up and then burst into tears."

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Nice suggestion, mtebob. I added a bit of formatting to your answer, and included the relevant definitions from your linked source, to make the answer more self-contained, but I think this is a good answer. +1 – Sven Yargs Jan 20 at 2:55
+1. Good one. But having a clouded-up face doesn't mean that you're struggling with upcoming tears, and that's the point, kinda. For example, this can be called a clouded-up face too. – Færd Jan 20 at 3:07

These expressions, per se, don't have a common English name, like grin does. "Petted lip" is probably correct, but I'd never heard it before, and I used to teach animation. "Grimace" is correct, physiologically, but would connote anger or disgust to most readers. "Pout" is a lip motion, and the brows are doing a lot of work in those expressions.

One often sees something like "the child's face fell," even though it's the body language that falls (shoulders sagging, head bowing, spine curving) more than face parts. Also, faces "crumple", certainly that baby's face is crumpled.

Also, someone please add a HAPPY baby: faces that sad hurt the feelings of even casual viewers! :)

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The most common way I have heard this expressed is "they looked like they were about to cry." Sometimes, it will be said that a person's lower lip started to quiver. I'll be interested to see if someone comes up with a really good answer, because I really think this is a bit of a gap in the English lexicon.

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For anyone older than a baby:

Verklempt: overcome with emotion; clenched

Yiddish origin

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Please add a citation. This may be exactly right, but without being able to look at a citation, all the Yiddish-naïve users will be perplexed. – ab2 Jan 20 at 21:06

The state just before bursting into tears is sometimes called on the verge of tears.

See for example, this dictionary.cambridge.com page for on the verge of ("If you are on the verge of something [...], you are very ​close to ​experiencing it") and the second item under verge¹ at freedictionary.com ("The point beyond which an action, state, or condition is likely to begin or occur"), which gives on the verge of tears as an example.

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Not sure why frown hasn't been mentioned yet:

Furrow one’s brow in an expression of disapproval, displeasure, or concentration (OED)

True, the dictionary definition makes no mention of the mouth. However, when frowning due to being sad or upset, as the question describes, it's generally understood that the mouth also takes a particular shape, including pouting lips and downward-turned corners.

In fact, if you ask someone to draw a frowning face, they're likely to draw an "inverse smiley face" without any eyebrows at all. For example, the ubiquitous emoticon :( is commonly referred to as the "frowny face" or "frown".

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As far as I can tell, calling this a 'frown' is unique to America. In Britain and Australia, a frown would be understood to be something closer to a scowl. – Easy Tiger Jan 20 at 14:04
@EasyTiger Thanks for the insight, I had no idea. So frowning isn't associated with sadness in those countries? Or does a scowl apply to more than just anger or frustration? – talrnu Jan 21 at 14:26
The OED definition you provided pretty much covers it. It's about the forehead area rather than the mouth. Think >:| rather than :( – Easy Tiger Jan 21 at 15:41
Makes sense. I wonder if the phrase "turn that frown upside down" has American origins, then. – talrnu Jan 21 at 17:32

While you are looking for a verb, the noun grief and its many synonyms define this expression and feeling very well.


noun: deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death. "she was overcome with grief"


sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair;

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I think the phrase "lost his composure" well represents that pre-tears emotional state the OP wishes to express in the example sentences. That face in the example images is most commonly seen in children because adults have generally mastered the art of maintaining their composure around other people. If you really need a single word, the word that comes to mind is crestfallen. (disappointed and ​sad because of having ​failed ​unexpectedly) But "When mom took the toy away, he became crestfallen and cried" sounds more like a writer trying to force a square word into a round sentence to me than something like "...his countenance morphed rapidly toward sadness as he lost a brief tussle with his composure and burst into tears"

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Consider, crease

Cause a crease to appear temporarily in (the face or its features), typically as a result of the expression of an emotion or feeling. ODO

His [little] face creased and tears welled in his eyes

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His eyes were welling up with tears.

I feel like this phrase captures the moment pretty well as it clearly shows that crying is imminent. The baby's eye's welled up and he began to cry.

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One might say, after having his candy taken away, that "the child's face contorted as he tried to hold back tears".

The word pout is not really appropriate. In American English, pouting is melodramatic or insincere. A child might pout (stick out their lip, whine, etc., but without tears) after being told "no" to more ice cream as a way to get their parents to give in and say "yes". This is not the same as a child who is about to cry because they skinned their knee, for example.

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I think 'stricken' can apply but only to the stage before tears of unhappiness or grief. Clare Danes in that gif certainly looks stricken.

Quoting Oxford Dictionaries


seriously affected by an undesirable condition or unpleasant feeling.

"Raymond was stricken with grief"

(Of a person’s face or look) showing great distress:

"she looked at Anne's stricken face, contorted with worry"

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The word used by my GM as an adjective was "schipsche." Whenever a baby would begin to wrinkle its face and its lower lip would begin to tremble & protrude before crying she'd say "Awe, look at him with the schipsche (pron, ship shuh) lip. I do not know whether this was German, Yiddish, Hebrew, or some other language's slang and I never asked her the origin of it and have never been able to find it in English, German, Yiddish or Hebrew dictionaries. It could just have been one of those "family" words because no middle-easterner, European, Israeli or German has ever heard of it.

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This is not an exact answer to your question (few of the answers here are) but the truth is that a very good word for what you want to express is consternation.

Full Definition of consternation : amazement or dismay that hinders or throws into confusion


noun 1. a sudden, alarming amazement or dread that results in utter confusion; dismay.


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