I need a word to describe something like this:

picture of a face with a half smile

Disclaimer: I'm not a Smallville fan.

A half-smile or a sappy smile.

Any suggestions?

  • nice picture ;)
    – Derfder
    Jun 26, 2013 at 5:38
  • Since we can "smile broadly" why can't it be said we can "smile narrowly"? Jun 26, 2013 at 6:45
  • That would be s-half-a-mile duh?
    – Kris
    Jun 26, 2013 at 13:56
  • Try to provide a link to the image. Sometimes images are not displayed on the ELU page.
    – Kris
    Jun 27, 2013 at 5:36
  • I agree with tender for the smile. It doesn't quite capture it, but i think it might be the closest you're gonna get in English! But if that's the look you're trying to describe I would focus more on the eyes. Like he smiled at her tenderly, like she was the only thing in the world that he can see. Feb 11, 2014 at 22:09

9 Answers 9


"Smirk"? ;) It's often used in a sarcastic way, but not always.

But I guess there is no other word for "half-smile" in English. Especially when used in romantic situations, you need to use your imagination instead and use a metaphor. " :D


Collins is happy with half-smile

a smile that is uncertain or short-lived

A related term is sly smile

a smile that shows you know something that other people do not: "I know why Chris didn't come home yesterday," she said with a sly smile.

More often than not, such a smile has a more knowing look to the eyes and is a bit less innocent in appearance.

Another term is wry smile

using or expressing dry, especially mocking, humor

While often subtle in appearance, such a smile is often described as slightly twisted

  • thefreedictionary.com/half-smile ; "A smile, but only one side of your lips curl up. It is used seductively by both guys and girls to look attractive. From across the room, he gave me a half-smile and winked." (Also, hallway smile) urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=half%20smile
    – Kris
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:00
  • @Kris Obviously there are different readings of half smile, and the OP is on to something, in that no term seems to exactly capture the slight dopey smile illustrated.
    – bib
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:07
  • Can't see the image. Asking OP for the image url.
    – Kris
    Jun 27, 2013 at 5:36
  • Given that wry can literally mean "abnormally bent or turned to one side; twisted; crooked", I'd say "wry smile" is a perfect way to describe the half-smile in the question.
    – Jez
    Jun 27, 2013 at 10:20

enter image description hereApologies to Leonardo, but I would suggest a Mona Lisa smile or a coy smile. Although the actor's lips are thicker, the expressions conveyed through the lips are identical.

enter image description here


It's called an Archaic Smile

enter image description here

photo by Glenn Marsch. See his comments on the sculpture.

Archaic Smile, from Wikipedia

The Archaic smile was used by Greek Archaic sculptors, especially in the second quarter of the 6th century BCE, possibly to suggest that their subject was alive, and infused with a sense of well-being. To viewers habituated to realism, the smile is flat and quite unnatural looking, although it could be seen as a movement towards naturalism.


Presumably you're looking for positive connotations, and linked to romanticism.

A timid / tender smile

A warm / sympathetic / fond smile

An amiable / engaging / thoughtful smile

A knowing / charming / suggestive smile

A quasi smile.


Yeah, I've squeezed my mind and scoured the internet, but I don't think you'll find a word in English for a smile like that. The closest you can get is a combination of words, like in Mari-Lou's list.

Other languages do have words for various degrees of smiles - beyond smirks and grins - but not English, apparently.


In my writing I either say: a ghost of a smile, or more dramatically, a ghost of a smile graced his/her lips


His lips broke into a teasing smile, with one corner hinting upwards.


A half-hearted smile can either be:

  • conflicted feelings about something that makes them more happy then something else,
  • an attempt to smile when it's hiding the truth, to be polite or simply deceive
  • half-focused attention on one thing while thinking about something else too

The 'heart' typically refers to either the spirit or the core of one's being, and in this case, it's only half-into what it is smiling about.

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