You know when you see something touching and moving and you feel like tears are about to come out of your eyes, yet you're able to barely control it; how do you describe this feeling or state? i.e. I was all [...] at the sight of his master curled up asleep in fetal position on the floor at the vet's beside his dog.

Take a look at this and you'll know what I'm talking about:

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  • The word kitsch comes to mind.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 3:55
  • I was close to tears?
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 8:18

11 Answers 11


I was all choked up.

Fig. to cause someone to feel like starting to cry.

I got all misty-eyed.

  1. Having the eyes blurred, as with tears.

..............I felt the tears welling up.


I was all teary at the sight of his master curled up asleep...

teary; of a person, having eyes filled with tears; inclined to cry; Of eyes, filled with tears


Another option would be verklemmt

It is a Yiddish word describing a strong emotional response.

From Wikipedia:

verklemmt: choked up; speechless; unable to express one's feelings/emotions (cf. German verklemmt = "uptight"); stuck

  • I think this is a great word for the situation described. You'll sometimes see this spelled verklempt. Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 1:26
  • 1
    Unfortunately, thanks to Mike Myers and Saturday Night Live, this word now has mostly humorous connotations. (At least to American readers.) Its original definition has been somewhat subsumed by this, and it might break the tone if you're writing something serious and not comedic. Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 4:23

Try one of these:

I felt a sting at the back of my eyes

I felt a lump in my throat

  • Is feeling a sting at the back of eyes common usage? I like the non-literal sense to these phrases.
    – Theo
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 18:30
  • One would not use it in everyday usage, but neither is the sentiment something you convey everyday. However in fiction, specially when building up a moment or atmosphere, it is used. Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 5:03

On Tears of Joy and Gladness

For what purpose and in what linguistic context?

  • Written or oral, and if so, what is the context of each?
  • Talking to someone at a pub?
  • Declaiming poetry, and if so, is it open verse or otherwise?
  • High register or casual?
  • Is this a medical audience, perhaps even ophthalmologists?
  • Is it for the stranger sitting next to you on the city bus?

I myself would use any the more run-of-mill alternatives already given, or perhaps something more lyrical if sufficiently stirred, ranging from the commonplace to the poetic:

  • I was touched, stirred, or moved.
  • I could only say awwwwwww and smile like a happy idiot.
  • I got all choked up.
  • I got all teary-eyed.
  • My eyes misted over.
  • I spilt tender tears.
  • The touching scene so warmed the cold cockles of my heart that my eyes welled up with tears of joy unlooked for — and all the more welcome for it.

The thing is that we more often associate tears with negative emotions than we do with positive ones. However, any emotion that’s powerful enough can so overwhelm us as to provoke a lachrymal response. However, English doesn’t distinguish in a single word the tears of gladness from tears of sadness.

In either case, we just say that someone was crying or weeping, but that does not tell the full tale. The tears of the plaint look the same as those that spring from sorrow’s opposite. As one of the Wise one remarked in a bittersweet parting:

I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.

If not all tears are evil nor all weeping that of sadness, how do we tell the one from the other. We’ve no choice but to add other words to tell the difference between the two, for we have no special word in English that would immediately distinguish the bitter tears of dyscatastrophe and sadness from the sweet tears of eucatastrophe and gladness.

Metaphorically then, tears can be either bitter or they can be sweet, or perhaps both at once. In reality of course, both are equally salty, despite the Chicago song “Make Me Smile” inviting one to “Cry sweet tears of joy”.

It is this inherent ambiguity of the different kinds of tears that resists a single word to tell the bitter from the sweet, let alone from the bittersweet, that makes this question a difficult to one to answer succinctly and unambiguously. Tears can even suddenly transform from one form to the other, as the psalmist wrote in Psalms 30:5, when the night’s weeping turns to joy with the coming of the dawn.


I have already given several common ways of saying it, but if you want a more high-falutin’ term, both lachrymous and lachrymose exist, with the latter being by far the more common of the two.

The OED gives two subsenses for its sense two of that word:

  • 2a. Given or ready to shed tears. Of the eyes: Suffused with tears.
  • 2b. Of a tearful character; calculated to provoke tears; mournful.

Although sense 2a gives you want you want, sense 2b’s tenebrous overtones might risk miscommunication if the full context were not well established.

The OED has a bunch of entries starting with lachrym-, but most are confined to technical medical usage today:

  • † lachrymable [adj.]
  • † lachrymabund [adj.]
  • lachryma Christi [n.]
  • lachrymal [adj.]
  • › lachrymal canal, duct, gland, sac, lachrymal bone, sinus, lachrymal fistula ← lachrymal
  • lachrymary [adj.]
  • lachrymate [v.]
  • ˈlachrymating [vbl. n.] ← lachrymate
  • lachrymation [n.]
  • lachrymator [n.]
  • lachrymatory [adj.]
  • † lachryme [n.]
  • † lachryˈmental [adj.]
  • lachrymiform [adj.]
  • lachrymist [n.]
  • lachrymogenic [adj.]
  • ˌlachrymo-ˈnasal [adj.]
  • lachrymose [adj.]
  • ˈlachrymosely [adv.] ← lachrymose
  • lachryˈmosity ← lachrymose
  • lachrymous [adj.]

Whereas for the more expected lacr- prefix, it has next to nothing: one is lacrimal which it says is an alternate spelling of lachrymal, and the other is the unassimilated foreign phrase lacrimae rerum, the “tears of things” from Virgil’s Aeneid.

     † [For once, I strongly advise following the link and reading the brief Wikipedia article in full, for there is true poetic beauty there in some of the English translations.]

A Minor Spelling Mystery

I wonder where the funny spelling of the English lachrymose (etc.) came from.

For those familiar with the Requiem Masses of Mozart or Verdi, or even Berlioz if you’re into that sort of thing, you will recognize these famous words from the Dies Irae set to their own movements by those composers. The very first word is the one from which our modern one in English ultimately derives:

Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

It all comes back to a lacrima meaning a tear in Latin, which gives us lágrima in modern Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician alike, and llàgrima in neighboring Catalan. It’s still just lacrima in Italian just like the “original” Latin, and similarly still stressed on the the ante-penult as all four Iberian orthographies make clear via their explicit diacritics.

French has whittled it all the way down to la larme for tear, but liquide lacrymal is still known: notice they have a y there now in French, which seems to be where we got ours from, but still no h as in the English version.

What I do not understand is where the extra h came from in English lachrymose, or the y for that matter. Latin didn’t have it; as shown above, Latin had lacrimōs-us for the adjective and lacrima for the 1st-declension feminine noun.

The ‑chry‑ sequence looks much more Greek to me than the ‑cri‑ Latin sequence, but we got it from Latin. But modern Greek, I think, just has δακρυσμένος (“dakrysménos”) there from δάκρυ(α) (“dákry(a)”), so I don’t know why the Latin-derived word should now have a pseudo-Greek spelling in English.

All I can guess is that the medievals somehow got the ‑cri‑ part in Latin lacrimosa confused with χρῡσ-ός, (“chrȳs-ós”) Greek for gold and common in chemistry and taxonomy: chrysoberyl is a yellowish-green gem and the golden eagle is Aquila chrysaëtos. Must ask Cerberus.

Then again, lacrimosa and dakrysménos and such are close enough to make me wonder about some previously unknown Grimm d–l swap back in PIE. Must ask John Lawler.


As mentioned in potentially ephemeral comments below, Janus has explained that d–l swaps were not wholly unknown in early Latin variants. Lest his comment be someday lost, I copy it here for posterity [emphasis mine]:

Quite unrelated to the above, and only a comment on the very last bit of this answer: the d/l switch is not all that uncommon in Latin. Original initial d’s occasionally show up in Latin as l’s. Compare lingua with its Oscan (or is it Umbrian?) cognate fangvam and earlier Latin form dingua, as well as the Archaic Latin form dacruma/dacrima.

So it seems more certain that the Latin word and the Greek word were related after all. But why the medievals thought to use ‑ch‑ as though it had had a chi not a kappa in the Greek, we will probably never know. It smells like what Wikipedia is referring to when it writes:

From the 16th century onward, English writers who were scholars of Greek and Latin literature tried to link English words to their Graeco-Latin counterparts. They did this by adding silent letters to make the real or imagined links more obvious. Thus det became debt (to link it to Latin debitum), dout became doubt (to link it to Latin dubitare), sissors became scissors and sithe became scythe (as they were wrongly thought to come from Latin scindere), iland became island (as it was wrongly thought to come from Latin insula), ake became ache (as it was wrongly thought to come from Greek ἄχος (“akhos”), and so forth.

Considering that lachrymose entered English during the 17th century, is seems to be of the same sort of thing as thyme: late medieval Latin often simply had timum or timus, but then somebody noticed that Greek had θύμον (θύμος < θύειν to burn sacrifice) so they when back and put in letters we never said, first into the Latin thymum and then into English thyme.

The story of why we spell the River Thames with an h, a word which King Ælfred himself spelt merely Temes around 893, is even sillier, when 610 years after that the Rolls of Parliament first recorded it with an h in 1503:

A Ryvere called the Thamyse, otherwyse called the Temmesse.

Here there is no Greek theta in anything original, so they just got it wrong. However, unlike other notoriously respelled words like author < autor and Anthony < Antoni(us), the River’s name was too commonly said to tolerate an erroneous theta pronunciation.

  • 6
    -1 Your answer is, as far as I can tell, off-topic. As thought provoking it is, I don't think the OP is really concerned with the spelling idiosyncrasies of the word lachrymose. And finally, the OP made it pretty clear what the context was.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 20:37
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA: SUre it's on topic. Lachrymose' is a perfectly good synonym for teary-eyed. You may disagree that that is a good alternative for the OP, but it is certainly on topic.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 22:06
  • 4
    @Mari-LouA: So let me get this straight. You're down-voting because tchrist did more than was required? He always does more than is required. Don't hold it against him. There are plenty of shorter answers that ought to be right in your wheelhouse. Read one of those instead. Now I have to up-vote just to cancel out your misguided censure.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 22:24
  • 1
    @Mari-Lou: I have to join the chorus. I like you, but I find this down-vote, and especially your comment, unbelievable. Is there some personal vendetta going on or something? The answer gives no less than four straightforward options that answer the question exactly; contrary to what you are saying, the question does not provide the kind of context this answer has requested; and, lastly, it is the only answer that is actually interesting and learned. The academically inclined will not doubt be interested in the background story behind one of the answers to the OP's question. Please reconsider. Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Cerberus There is no personal vendetta. Why should there be? I have nothing against the word, lachrymose either, off-topic was perhaps the wrong word. But tchrist's "spelling mystery" has nothing to do with the OP's question. And the context is pretty clear in the OP's question, so I find his premise questionable.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 23:11

dewy-eyed covers the situation you describe pretty accurately.

For example, from Cambridge Dictionaries

having eyes that are wet with tears because you feel emotional: dewy-eyed nostalgia

  • Although dewy-eyed is an interesting suggestion, I'm not sure that it fits the context that the questioner has in mind. Here is the only definition of the term in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003): "dewy-eyed adj (1938) : naively innocent and trusting {a dewy-eyed optimist}." If you have access to a more relevant dictionary definition of dewy-eyed, you can strengthen your answer considerably by appending it to the original (and quite brief) answer.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 23:50
  • @SvenYargs I think the naivety came after the near-tears description, with the idea of someone who was easily moved (emotionally). Updates as suggested
    – Joffan
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 0:28

Consider, I was on the ragged edge of tears

ragged edge: (Chiefly AmEng) the extreme edge, like that of a precipice; verge: the ragged edge of poverty; Idiom on the ragged edge: precariously close to loss of self-control, mental stability, etc. Webster's New World College Dictionary


To describe the moment when you feel you're about to cry but can't, or you don't want to, here are a few more suggestions:

  1. on the verge of tears

  2. hover on the brink/verge/edge of tears
    Annabel was hovering on the brink of tears.

  3. close to tears
    Although close to ​tears, she ​tried to make her ​voice ​sound ​casual.

  4. brim
    to ​become ​full of something, ​especially a ​liquid:
    Her ​eyes brimmed with ​tears when she ​heard that he was ​alive


I was on the verge of tears seeing the dog's owner curled up asleep beside him.

My eyes brimmed with tears at the sight of his master curled up asleep in fetal position …

Sources: Cambridge Dictionaries, and Macmillan Dictionary


Misty-eyed, near to tears, red eyed and upset but not crying are good phrases or words but there still is not a perfect answer yet.


Teary-eyed, of a person, having tears in the eyes as when being overwhelmed by emotion.

Crying or likely to cry. Cambridge dictionary

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