You know how sometimes you want to cry, but do not cry. Maybe a few tears are shed, but you mostly just choke up. The urge to cry is there, perhaps overwhelmingly, but you suppress it somehow and don't actually cry.

Is there a word for this state? I've always used "crying" but it really isn't quite crying yet.


12 Answers 12


The ones that immediately come to mind:

You could be: Teary, Tearful, Weepy, Misty-Eyed. Perhaps you are about to 'tear up', or are 'tearing up'. Perhaps tears are about to 'well up' or are 'welling up'.

  • 1
    or teary/watery-eyed ....
    – Misti
    Jun 10, 2015 at 17:03
  • 2
    It might be helpful to clarify that tear up is also idiomatic in the sense of "ripping something to shreds" if you read it as the wrong tear.
    – talrnu
    Jun 10, 2015 at 17:55
  • 4
    My first thought was 'welling up'
    – Mynamite
    Jun 10, 2015 at 18:27
  • 1
    My first thought was teary. Jun 10, 2015 at 22:34
  • 1
    -1- My first issue is with "tearful" - a "tearful goodbye" may contain all sorts of obnoxious bawling. All the others, except for "welling up", do not imply any kind of emotional cause - which I believe was part of OP's question. Even "welling up", does not necessarily mean that you did not just pull a hair from your nostril.
    – Oldbag
    Jun 10, 2015 at 23:41

You could have

"On the verge of tears"

Which implies that you are very close to tears, but not quite; perhaps displaying some emotion

  • 1
    But ... this is a descriptive phrase, not a word. It literally describes the same thing the OP describes. Jun 10, 2015 at 22:37
  • 3
    @GreenAsJade That is why this phrase is so cliche. I doubt the finding of a single word to replace it.
    – Mazura
    Jun 11, 2015 at 1:02
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    The only difference between a word or a phrase is the societal convention in how to write it down. Over time that can easily be lost, and as far as spoken language is concerned there was never and will never be a difference. Jun 12, 2015 at 0:21

As you mentioned, "choked up" is a perfectly good phrase for this. Feeling choked up means feeling "a lump in your throat" and the sensation of being about to start crying.

Similarly, to "choke back" tears or sobs means to fight against the urge to cry.


You are misty-eyed.

crying a little, or feeling that you might cry [MacMillan]

  • 4
    To my ears, 'misty-eyed' is a good phrase if the context is right. If you were on the verge of crying "happy tears" it would work very well: it's not great for "sad tears": it would not work at all for "angry tears".
    – AAT
    Jun 11, 2015 at 8:00
  • I've always interpreted it as more of a sad expression than a happy one. But I definitely agree it's not appropriate for anger in all contexts.
    – thanby
    Jun 12, 2015 at 11:02
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    I associate misty-eyed most with bitter-sweet mixed emotions, like being nostalgic about happy times (that are now long gone), or listening to a touchingly beautiful eulogy at a funeral. It sounds very odd to me to say something like "I was misty-eyed when I discovered my dog had died" or "When I learned my neighbour had poisoned him, I was misty-eyed with rage". Jun 12, 2015 at 11:44

The phrase: 'to feel tears welling up,'
is commonly abbreviated to 'welling up.'

an informal usage, discussed in this informal conversation


The "Coffee Talk" sketches from (US) Saturday Night Live popularized the Yiddish word verklempt, which describes this pretty well. Dictionary.com defines it as:

overcome with emotion; clenched

  • 3
    As German native speaker I disagree. We have the word "verklemmt" and it is similar to "overcome with emotion; clenched" but in a different way. This means you are kind of shy, cannot express your emotions, shy to the opposite sex, not easy around people, being naked e.g. in a sauna makes you uncomfortable, uncomfortable with people and so on. This can lead to being close to tears, but does not mean to be it.
    – Daniel
    Jun 10, 2015 at 19:18
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    @Daniel Two things: first, the word and its usage derive from Yiddish, so even though it has German roots it doesn't necessarily share a definition. Second, if you'd seen the SNL sketches you'd have no doubt how it was meant. (-:
    – Jim Mack
    Jun 10, 2015 at 19:35
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    @JimMack Or just lived in New York City long enough. Lots of Yiddish in local slang there.
    – KRyan
    Jun 10, 2015 at 19:44
  • @JimMack Not being able to cry in front of some, might make you verklempt. You are overcome with emotion, otherwise you would not be close to tears, but being verklempt not naturally means being close to tears, does it? The question is, does one understand that I am close to tears, when you call me verklempt? In this sketch it might has worked, but you saw the one. Being clenched due to overcoming emotions in a situation (with other people around) that is being verklempt, regardless of which emotion. Shame/Love/Grief/Happiness. Maybe you just dont want to show the tears, but would be able to.
    – Daniel
    Jun 10, 2015 at 20:04
  • @KRyan I wont say that there might be different uses of the words in local slang. I am just not sure, that verklempt will be understood as being close to tears but suppressing them, as I wrote in my last comment to JimMack.
    – Daniel
    Jun 10, 2015 at 20:07

Good single-word suggestions by John and others.

In case you're open to phrases, you're

fighting back tears

or choking back/blinking back/swallowing tears

  • 1
    nice idea (-----)
    – Fattie
    Jun 11, 2015 at 4:00

Really the most common way to describe when you're experiencing this feeling is to simply say "I'm going to cry", or "I'm about to cry", or even "I could cry". The single word solutions in other answers are technically correct, but I've never heard any of them used in conversation, just in literary narrative.

  • The question asks for a word, not how to express it in a sentence. Whether or not you've heard it used in conversation wasn't part of the criteria. Jun 10, 2015 at 22:39
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    @GreenAsJade My answer is intended to point out the importance of context in the use of any answer to this question. If you're trying to describe the feeling of being about to cry in normal conversation, my answer is probably preferable. In many other scenarios, the other answers are certainly preferable. The question may be tagged "single-word-request" but the asker makes no point to emphasize the importance of the number of words, and doesn't specify a context for answers to consider. My answer isn't the best, but it's not worthless either.
    – talrnu
    Jun 11, 2015 at 1:25
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    Possibly a comment about the importance of context, and the limitations on the usefulness of the single word answers given might be more appropriate as a comment rather than an answer? Jun 11, 2015 at 1:57
  • 1
    @GreenAsJade My answer suggests neither of those ideas. I think our question-answering philosophies are different: I'm getting the impression that you're trying to find the single best answer to the question, and I'm interested in just providing a useful response to the question whether it's accepted as the best answer or not. In my mind, the value here is not only in finding the one answer that helps this asker most, but also in providing information that would be useful or interesting to all future ELL visitors who come across this question as they search for their own answers.
    – talrnu
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:04
  • I believe this answer answers the real word(s) in such situation.
    – haha
    Mar 7, 2018 at 22:40

I believe "lacrimose" is usable in this context. Readily available definitions seem to contain "inclined to weep," "given to shedding tears," etc.

  • Hi @Jonathan and welcome to ELU. It would be very helpful if you could add links to the definitions given in your answer. Examples of word usage are also welcome. Many thanks. Jun 10, 2015 at 21:08
  • That's not how you spell it. Although some dubious dictionary sites offer this as an alternative spelling, they are not in use Jun 10, 2015 at 22:46

How about upset?

very sad, worried, or angry about something

It might be a little too generic, but it's a good fallback that covers a lot of situations.

She was so upset when she didn't pass the audition that she almost started to cry.



Note this term is more commonly used to describe a 'full cry state' especially when the cry-er is male and even more particularly when the onlooker point-of-view is also that of a man. However, surveys of majority male populations are likely to indicate the point at which the word "Wussy" may be applied is of significantly less magnitude than 'full crying' with some going as far as to approve any contexts in which thoughts of crying persist in the mind for times exceeding a second or two.


Although I'm aware that you specifically asked for a "word" answer, I don't think there is a specific single word that really nails it. My advice is to use a sentence as a description. Words in concert have the power to make a more vivid picture in the mind of the reader than a single word would do. If I was telling a story, I might say:

"I felt my throat tighten and a tear came to my eye, but I kept myself from crying."

A listener/reader gets a vivid impression of how I felt. This makes the impression all the stronger and more relate-able.

  • There is a word in Filipino for this, it is called "hikbi". I am not aware though of the direct English translation
    – gelolopez
    Jun 10, 2015 at 21:25

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