I have a character who sees something breathtaking, and I want to say that "his breath was taken by..."

Most results I get for the expression end with "away", which I don't like.


  1. Can I say that his breath was taken by..? is that idiomatic?
  2. Can I say that he was breathtaken? I'm guessing that no, but could be nice...
  • 1
    Note that "adjectival" breathtaking is effectively an idiomatic usage. About the only other common variant is "That took my breath away!". Anyone could "reverse-engineer" a past tense verb form like breathtaken (that's about 126 written instances), but I don't think you'd find it in any dictionaries. Feb 19, 2015 at 17:59
  • @FumbleFingers somehow, that small "away" turns it into a cliche.
    – joeav
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:03
  • 1
    @joeav- but it is cliché. If you want to use breathtaking then it took his breath away. If you want to use something else then that's okay too. Maybe you could say, "It was so beautiful, he felt himself stop breathing for a moment." - something like that.
    – Jim
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:07
  • 1
    @joeav: I don't know about "somehow". It's kinda necessary to the idiomatic usage. There are over 1000 written instances of "{What} took my breath away was {something amazing}", but only one (slightly florid) instance of it without "away" Feb 19, 2015 at 18:11
  • I'm convinced. thx
    – joeav
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


As an alternative, you could consider speechless?

e.g. "He was left speechless by..." or "...left him speechless."

(p.s. I tried adding this as a simple comment but don't have the rep)

  • Another idiomatic usage that realistically you can't creatively "bend" into, for example, He was so surprised his speech left him. Feb 19, 2015 at 18:14

Why not say X left him breathless

Short of breath or appearing this way because of excitement or other strong feelings: her breathless account of what happened in the courtroom

And if you are willing to shift away from the breath- root, perhaps he was dumbstruck by her beauty

So shocked or surprised as to be unable to speak: he was dumbstruck with terror

both from Oxford Dictionaries Online

  • it's a translation, and the original is a very nice expression, which translated literally would be "his breath was transported". That's my starting point, and I just think that "his breath was taken" could have potentially been a stronger expression
    – joeav
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:58
  • @joeav So maybe his breath was stolen away ...
    – bib
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:59

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