As the title indicates, I was looking for ways to poetically, or idiomatically describe ways to smile, or interesting ones anyway. I find that I always switch back to the most basic descriptive ways ('he smiled'), and I really need to expand my horizons. I haven't found this question here before so I'm guessing everybody else can benefit from this.

By poetic, I mean something like this:

"His mouth curled up into a fond smile"

  • I like the site Descriptionari, which is where I usually check when needing a description (as the site's name indicates), but I have found only one expression that fits what I need ("The way his lips lifted upward").
  • I've generally googled the question too, and found a Quora answer where users gave their philosophical take on what a smile means.
  • The Macmillan dictionary proposed a vocabulary list, too, but it's the kind of words that'd accompany the word "smile", instead of either skipping it or phrasing it poetically.

Does anyone have any ideas, or ever come across something nice? Thank you in advance.

  • Hi, and welcome to Writers. Requests for single words are off-topic for us but generally acceptable on English SE. I've asked the mods to migrate.
    – Lauren Ipsum
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 12:13
  • Are you looking for different ways to say "he smiled" (that would fit better on English Language & Usage, as @LaurenIpsum says), or are you looking for ways to describe the particular way a person is smiling? "His mouth curled up" is more the former than the later. Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 12:58
  • @LaurenIpsum I think there is a fair chance this would get closed for being too broad at EL&U, it certainly doesn’t look like a good fit for ‘single-word-request’.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 14:27
  • @Galastel I'm looking for ways to describe the particular way a person smiles, notably different and various ways to achieve that, possibly with a poetic touch to it.
    – FMB
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 14:55
  • 1
    I think this question is borderline for being on topic but I'm going to vote to leave open. What tipped me over was your saying the word "idioms." I suggest you edit that into your original question. It helped me to understand what it was you were looking for.
    – Cyn
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 17:24

3 Answers 3


It depends on the circumstances. There are grimaces, grins, smiles and variations on them.

I have one character, who is grinning in the background, remind another of the Cheshire Cat. I use soft smiles and have the ghost of a smile playing on his lips.

The variety of smiles is most often expressed using the adjective that specifies what kind of smile we are to imagine.

Sometimes people use something like ‘you could have counted his teeth’ or the ‘gleam of his teeth’ to indicate a smile that is clearly visible and showing teeth.


"He smiled" is really the most general thing you can say. How did the character smile? Was it a shy smile, with that tilt of the head? Was it an excited, childish smile, eyes wide open? Was it a fake smile, that didn't reach the eyes? Did the character cover their mouth, uncomfortable showing teeth (which could be a cultural thing, or something particular to the character, or even a plot point if the character is, for example, a vampire)?

People smile differently in different situations, and different people smile differently. Those are things you need to consider - if you describe a smile, it needs to reflect the character and the situation.

There is also the way other characters see the smiling character's smile: is it pleasant? Does it chill their blood? Does it transform the character's face? Do they suddenly notice dimples? How one character perceives another character's smile should reflect both characters' personality.

In addition to describing, you can, as @Rasdashan mentions, vary your language, using terms more specific than 'smile': grin, smirk, etc.

At the same time, not every instance a character smiles needs to be decorated with descriptions of teeth, dimples, shining eyes and glowing faces. Just as most of the time you'd write 'he said' rather than wax poetic about the character's voice and tone, most of the time "he smiled" is sufficient, the rest being understood from context. Only add descriptions if you want the reader to linger on that smile, if you want to highlight it in some way. If you highlight everything, you highlight nothing.


You could go for metaphor or similie? "Her smile blossomed like a sun-touched flower" "His smile warmed her heart with its light"

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