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My 7 years old daughter is doing her English homework. She wrote the following sentence:

"My parents are face up looking at the cool sky"

I reckon it does not sound right. I would have said "My parents are turning their heads up and looking at the cool sky"

But not being a native English speaker myself, I am not confident of my suggestion.

Is there any better alternative?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Face up" is an idiom meaning "lying on one's back, as opposed to on one's front". It can also be used for inanimate objects which have a distinct front, but it would not normally be used for anything standing.

"Head up" is an idiom meaning "holding one's head up straight, not hanging down". It does not usually mean "looking upwards", though it could have that meaning.

"Heads up" does not have an idiomatic meaning (apart from the recent derived one of "a warning", which is not relevant here), but I think it could be used for "head up" when talking of several people.

Neither idiom is really appropriate in your daughter's example: "are looking up" would be the normal expression. You could say "faces turned up", which avoids the associations of the idiom, and has the appropriate meaning.

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Or, probably "gazing up", rather than looking up, given that this is the sky. – Marcin Jun 20 '11 at 20:30

I would take your daughter's phrase to be correct if her parents are lying on the ground.

Yours might be better if the parents are sitting down or standing up and have to move their heads to see the sky, though I would prefer a sequence of events such as "My parents have turned their heads up and are looking at the cool sky".

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Yes, when I read the question I initially thought they were lying on their backs. – MT_Head Jun 21 '11 at 4:09

My parents are looking up at the cool sky

or you can substitute look with stare (since look up is also a phrasal word with somewhat different meaning)

My parents are staring up at the cool sky / My parents are staring up into the cool sky

(Personally, I prefer into when talking about sky).

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If you are looking/staring at the sky, isn't up the only way? So is 'up' in this case redundant? – rest_day Jun 20 '11 at 18:09
@rest_day Not necessary. You can be starring forward and also see the sky if there're no obstacle like hills, houses, trees etc. "up" may be redundant here, but for me it sounds better this way. – Philoto Jun 20 '11 at 18:13
makes sense – rest_day Jun 20 '11 at 18:17

Somehow I feel that "face up" has the meaning of "looking up", but "head up" has the meaning of self-confidence, as in "Keep your heads up".

I would feel that "face up" would also not be used in this situation, but rather, "look up"

My parents are looking up at the sky.

"Face up", is used more like,

My parents had their faces lifted up at the sky.

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I would say "faces lifted to the sky", or simply "faces to the sky" (which is a much more common expression, if you compare them on Ngrams.) – MT_Head Jun 21 '11 at 4:08

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