Before someone cries, their eyes often appear watery. Is there a good name for that effect?

This was my attempt to describe it so far:

"My eyes become ________ [glossy] as I hold back my tears."

Is there a better word to be used in place of glossy? The whole "eyes become glossy" part can be reworded to suit the new word.

  • You are right; 'glossy' is a terrible word in this context.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:13
  • @Mitch luckily I got a lot of better alternatives from the answers.😄
    – Nathan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:15
  • Google NGrams can offer some perspective on how common the variations are. I personally think 'glisten' sounds strange here (a little like purple prose), but it seems to have been popular before the 80's.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:31
  • Nathan, Google NGrams is great, but it's not perfect. The dates can often be wrong, the selection of books that make up the corpus is slanted in ways we don't know, searching has to take into account a out of context. But 1) it is available 2) it is free!
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 17:45
  • There is nothing wrong with watery itself. It's quite common and understood. What do you think is wrong with it that something else should be used? Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 19:06

6 Answers 6


Although it may not seem to be the most logical answer, the standard phrase is "to mist over".

From Oxford Learners' Dictionary:

[intransitive, transitive] if your eyes mist or something mists them, they fill with tears mist (over/up) Her eyes misted over as she listened to the speech. Her eyes misted over with tears.



I have seen moist used often in this context.

"My eyes become moist as I hold back my tears."



1.1 (of the eyes) wet with tears.

‘her brother's eyes became moist’

Another word used often in this context is (quite literally as used in the question itself), watery.

"My eyes become watery as I hold back my tears."




1.1 (of a person's eyes) full of tears.

‘My eyes were a bit watery, something that happens after anyone shouts at me.’

With some rearrangement of words, you can also use the verb well.

"My eyes welled with tears as I tried to hold them back."


well. VERB

[often well up]

1 [no object, with adverbial (of a liquid)] rise up to the surface and spill or be about to spill.

‘tears were beginning to well up in her eyes’

‘His eyes welled with tears as they rushed down his cheeks like waterfall.

  • You are correct, but I'm not going mark this question an answered because I have recently learned that a large portion of the population now associates this word with disgust. While the word definition makes no mention of the disgust, if a large number of people think it has a different meaning, then I can't use it. I definitely don't want people to think the action of crying is disgusting. This paper investigated the feeling of disgust people have towards the word 'moist' specifically.
    – Nathan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 10:43
  • 2
    @Nathan just because you've heard that some people don't like the sound of this word doesn't mean much. It is a very common word that lots of people have no problem with at all. I don't think 'moist' is appropriate here, but it is a perfectly acceptable word in general.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:25
  • 1
    @Mitch My goal when writing is to convey information with text, so what people think a word means is more important than its dictionary definition. According to that paper, 10-20% of people find 'moist' to mean 'wet and disgusting'. Yes, 10-20% is in the minority, but it's a substantial amount. Whereas other words suggested here have close to 0% of people thinking they mean 'disgusting'. My hesitance to use the word 'moist' is justified considering that one out of every five people will misunderstand what I'm trying to tell them.
    – Nathan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:38
  • @Mitch If it was in the context of a legal document or formal report, then I would happily use 'moist'. In those settings people take definitions more seriously.
    – Nathan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:40
  • 1
    +1 I would personally prefer watery first and moist second. I see nothing with with either, and think that avoiding them because of a misperception isn't the right approach. Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 19:44

Two common ways is to say one's eyes or tears "well up"

often well up
1. no object, with adverbial (of a liquid) rise up to the surface and spill or be about to spill.
‘tears were beginning to well up in her eyes’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

v. To rise to the edge of a container, ready to flow:
Lava welled up in the crater.
Tears welled up in my eyes, but I did not cry.
I could feel anger well up in me.
The American Heritage Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs

well up
(from something) and well up (out of something) [for a liquid] to gush or pour up and away from something.
Tears welled up out of the baby's eyes.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

According to Google NGram Viewer, the terms "eyes welled up" and "tears welled up" have become quite popular over the recent years.

"eyes welled up" and "tears welled up" Google NGram chart. You can also compare these terms with other alternatives.

"My eyes welled up as I held back my tears."


Misty Eyes Definition of misty-eyed 1 : having tearful eyes



You could use "glisten" in this context (although you might want to reconstruct the sentence in that case), something like:

My eyes glisten as I hold back my tears

  • Lots of great answers here, but I'm only allowed to check one. Thank you everyone for your help. All the answers are very useful.
    – Nathan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 12:58

Teary may be further along in the process than you mean, but conversationally I have heard it used to mean 'beginning to cry' and 'already crying.'

e.g. She looked up with teary eyes.

Merriam Webster

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