Is an unhappy smile the same as a frown? I tried to google images of an unhappy smile and that's mostly what I found. I don't think an unhappy smile is the same thing as a frown, but I could be wrong. What is an unhappy smile? A description or picture would be helpful.

  • It simple means you have bad teeth - it's basically today a commercial term used by cosmetic surgeons and cosmetic dentists (particularly in the US). Simple. It is totally unrelated to "half-smiles" "sneers" etc.
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:26

4 Answers 4


An unhappy smile is still a smile, insofar as the corners of the mouth are drawn back or upturned. However, the eyebrows may be furrowed, and the eyes may be squinched or teary. Also, the lips tend to be pressed together, rather than relaxed as in a happy smile. Here is an example:

Paula Abdul with unhappy smile

The phrase can also indicate that the subject is forcing a smile or putting on a happy face, as demonstrated in this passage from Wolfsden, published in 1856:

Book excerpt

Although it can certainly also mean that someone has an unattractive smile — this is a very modern meaning, arising with the increased popularity of cosmetic dentistry.

  • @Kit, this is just an emotional smile, or laughing through the tears. It has nothing to do with an "unhappy smile" which is a term of art in cosmetic dentistry - you can see thousands of examples of usage on the web.
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:24
  • 1
    @Joe Blow She's not laughing in this picture. You might say it's "emotional" but unhappy is an emotion, after all. "Unhappy smile" might be a term of art in cosmetic dentistry, but it has other meanings as well.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:35
  • @Kit, the thing is Kit, in your example that is not being used as a "figure of speech" - it's just an adjective with a noun. You'd be hard pressed to find examples of it being used as a figure of speech (other than in the dentistry sense). If you can easily find ten or twenty other examples of it being used as a figure of speech, you'd be right. For any "figure of speech" it's trivial to find 1000s of examples of it being used as a figure of speech. Anyway - enjoy!
    – Fattie
    Jun 23, 2011 at 17:00
  • @Joe, what about the 1000's of examples we get when we google this?
    – rest_day
    Jun 23, 2011 at 17:26
  • @Joe Why does it matter if it's a figure of speech or not?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 23, 2011 at 17:42

An unhappy smile is certainly not a frown.

An unhappy smile is when you try to smile even when you are not happy. From the look of your face, it might seem that you are smiling, but you are really not happy.

You can say that an unhappy smile is a smile that is on your lips, but not in your eyes.

Also see this question.

  • ! You're totally and completely wrong on this occasion. What you are describing is called a forced smile by native English speakers.
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:22
  • @Joe: it seems from the google examples that 'unhappy smile' and 'forced smile' are pretty close.
    – Mitch
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:54
  • 2
    @Joe It need not be a forced smile, in cases where you are smiling because you genuinely want to but you are also sad. For example, a write may say that a mother who has lost a child recently had an unhappy smile when she saw some children play in the park.
    – rest_day
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:57

An unhappy smile isn't a frown. It's simply the type of smile you make when you're unhappy. So it's not a real smile, it's the kind of smile you make when you're sad and someone says something slightly funny to cheer you up and you give them a sort of half-smile.

  • you're talking about a fake smile, or half-smile. An "unhappy smile" much like say an "unhappy hair-do" or "unhappy choice of hair colour" simply means your smile .. looks bad! You can see thousands of examples of the use by plastic surgeons and dentists on the web.
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:25
  • Agreed, especially on the half-smile. It's often used in psychology to "trick" the mind into feeling happy when it's not.
    – Elizabite
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:41
  • 3
    @Joe So all the results in this link are about plastic surgeons and dentists? google.com/…, I doubt it.
    – rest_day
    Jun 22, 2011 at 19:44
  • I disagree, Joe.
    – victoriah
    Jun 22, 2011 at 20:33

It's a forced smile, a smile that isn't natural - rather, a smile of acknowledgment.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.