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Faces of Emotion: 45 of the Best Words to Describe Your Facial Expressions

Faces of Emotion: 45 of the Best Words to Describe Your Facial Expressions

Facial expressions say a lot about a person and how they are feeling. As a writer, using specific words to describe facial expressions can help to distinguish the extent of these feelings to other characters and your readers.

The most basic words to describe a person’s facial expressions are happy, sad, angry, afraid or surprised. However, you can add deeper meanings to these facial expressions by using more creative words to describe them.

This article will introduce you to some words to describe facial expressions that you may not have used before and remind you of other words that are more effective than those you are currently using.


What does facial expression mean?

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The dictionary defines a “facial expression” as “the movement or position of the features of the face, especially the mouth, eyes, and eyebrows, in order to show emotion or attitude.”
It’s what you use to judge how a person is feeling without them having to say anything. It is one of the most noticeable forms of nonverbal communication and can many emotions.
A character’s facial expression can let others know if he/she is happy, or if he/she is sad. It can tell signs of anger and aggression, or let someone know that the person is arrogant.
Someone’s facial expression can tell if they are surprised and did not expect something, or if they are feeling fearful and/or uncomfortable.
Glance at these words to describe facial expressions, and try to implement some of them in your own writing. They can be used to display different aspects of the same emotion.

6 of the best words to describe happy facial expressions

Happiness is the easiest facial expression to identify and describe. You could use the word ‘happy’ to describe it, but you might want to try one of these words to describe facial expressions to improve your descriptive writing:

This word describes an apparent feeling of bliss, contentment and enjoyment. It is another way to say someone looks extremely happy. A beatific smile is a facial expression of happiness and joy. It’s like the sun has been shining down from above and lit up everything around it.
This is how it may be used:
“Her beatific smile lit up the room and made everyone want to know what she was thinking.”


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Blithe may describe a look of being carefree, indifferent or light-hearted. It means the person does not appear to have a care or fear in the world and is feeling happy. Blithe facial expressions are always full of life and vitality. Blithely smiling eyes are ones that seem to spread like wildfire.
For instance:
“The group of teenagers left for summer with blithe looks and dreams of how they would spend their holiday.”


This is good to use when the person appears to be in “la-la-land”, or on cloud nine. Their dreaminess can be seen in how they gaze far off into space. This facial expression means the person is experiencing good thoughts and has a positive vibe.
For example:
“My mother came from her anniversary dinner looking dreamy and happy to be here.”


Joyful describes extreme happiness, bright smiles and high spirits. A joyful facial expression is one that spreads from ear to ear and seems inviting. The joy on the face is so pure and radiant that it would be impossible not to smile back at this happy person.
This is how it may be used:
“The joyful look on his face made it seem like he just won the lottery.”


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Mild can be used when a person isn’t overly joyous or excited, but has a content look on their face, or they show no signs of anger or sadness.
For example:
“His mild expression told us that he was pleased with what was happening, and that’s all we could ever ask for.”


If a person has a radiant look, they could melt any heart. It is a smile with one’s eyes carefully closed and mouth slightly open to reveal the white teeth. Use radiant to describe a bright, pleasant facial expression that lifts the room and makes everyone feel good. It’s the type of expression that people have when they are in a good mood.
This is how it can be used:
“Jillian always had a radiant look, and glowed from the inside out.”



6 of the best words to describe sad facial expressions

Sadness can be caused by great loss or by feeling hurt or offended. This can range from crying or weeping to being expressionless.
These are some words to describe facial expressions associated with feelings of sadness:

Absent may be used when the person has an expressionless look on his/her face because of what happened. Their brows are lowered and they seem thoughtful without really being focused on anything in particular. They appear to be completely defeated and have given up.
For example:
“She was here with us physically, but her absent face made it clear she was thinking about something else.”


boy stays home bored by school looking outside the window
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Apologetic is best used when a person has done something to cause another person harm and feels bad or sad as a result. An apologetic facial expression is a mixture between sadness and shame. The most common facial expressions associated with an apologetic expression are mouth closed tightly with eyes cast down towards the floor or upwards toward their forehead in an effort at looking serious and guilt-ridden about what they’ve done.
Here is one way it can be used:
“We all knew she had no intention of this happening by the apologetic look on her face.”


This word may be used when someone feels defeated by a situation. It is closely associated with depression and despondence. Their facial expression speaks volumes, with downturned eyes and a drooping mouth giving an indication of their spirits falling.
For instance:
“She is currently on medication, but she still has the same dejected appearance months later.”


Use morose to describe sadness when it appears as though a dark cloud is hanging over the person. It may be used to describe deep depression. A morose facial expression is often accompanied by slouching, shaking and furrowed brows.
This is an example you can follow:
“He got what he asked for, but it was clearly not enough by the morose look on his face.”



A regretful facial expression is one that indicates something bad has happened. It is often when a person has a downturned mouth and genuine sorrow in the eyes. People who show this kind of distress might be mumbling softly to themselves while brushing away tears with the backside or sleeve of their hand in an attempt to not draw any attention.
Check out this example:
“Every time someone mentions his ex-wife, he looks regretful and wishes he never let her go.”


unpleasant pain sad unhappy handsome man
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This is good to use when a feeling of sadness is caused by a situation that has not yet happened but is certain to be bad (in the person’s opinion). The face might become drawn with furrowed brows and tight lips, while they frown slightly as if in deep contemplation of something that alarms them greatly.
For instance:
“Marjorie appeared worried by her dad’s tone, and wanted to run off before they had a chance to talk in person.”


6 of the best words to describe angry facial expressions

Anger happens when someone feels slighted or disrespected by something done to them or others. It will lead to expressions of negative feelings which can be verbal, or nonverbal in the case of facial expressions.
Here are some of the best words to describe facial expressions :

When the feeling of anger is etched on someone’s face, it means it is very obvious and unchanging. The etched look communicates intensity, concentration and focus. It is characterized by furrows in the skin around the eyes. The person is fixed on this feeling and it is hard to hide it.
For example:
“The anger was etched on his face, almost as if it had been that way the entire time.”


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A glowering facial expression is for when someone is extremely angry and annoyed to the point of having a scowl. The eyes may be narrowed with folds at their corners showing deep wrinkles around them, as well as becoming red due to heavy frustration/irritation in some cases.
This is an example of usage:
“He felt uncomfortable because she was glowering at him intensely.”


Use miserable to describe an angry face caused by inconveniences rather than a purposeful act. This is a face that says, “I’m not happy about the way things have been going.” It is characterized by furrowing the brows and narrowing the eyes in anger.
This is how you can use it:
“The sweltering sun coupled with the long face caused her to look extremely miserable.”


close asian angry woman using laptop

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This describes anger caused by being annoyed at a particular person. The face of a peeved person may show signs like furrowed brows and raised left/right lips into an angry sneer.
For example:
“We could tell the conversation was not going well as he started looking super peeved while on the phone with his dad.”


Perplexed may be used to describe the anger that comes from misunderstanding or being baffled by a situation. The facial expression of a perplexed person is with the eyebrows risen in confusion, the eyes rolled back, and the mouth turns to one side, giving off an overall impression that they are frustrated or confused about something.
Here’s how you can use it:
“The supervisor could tell that the customer was not pleased by the perplexed look on her face.”


Sometimes, anger does not involve shouting or being combative. It may be characterized by a straight-faced expression with the mouth pulled into what looks like a barely noticeable smile; this results from having no muscle movement around it, not leaving any room for approachability.
For instance:
“She sat straight-faced, not listening to the pleas of her friends not to confront her boyfriend.”


woman gesturing while quarreling her partner

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6 of the best words for surprised facial expressions

Surprised facial expressions happen when someone did not expect something to happen. It can be either good or bad, depending on the situation.
Here are 6 words to describe surpised facial expressions :

This describes a feeling of great wonder, usually when it is a good surprise. The eyes will be wide open and round with surprise or wonderment. It can also be alternated with words like astonishment, marvel or excitement.
Here’s an example of usage:
“She looked on in amazement at what her brother was able to achieve in such a short time.”


surprised kid sitting table childs eyes

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A dumbfounded look is one of the most common facial expressions. This is used when a character is in a state of not having any idea of what to say or how to react. It’s sort of like when someone completely freezes out of shock. When someone experiences something that leaves them open-mouthed in awe or disbelief, this will usually be their first response.
For instance:
“There was no telling what would happen next because he was left dumbfounded by her erratic behavior.”


Use puzzled for surprises that don’t quite make sense. In other words, you are left with more questions than answers and have no clue how to react. It is characterised by raising both eyebrows alongside creased brows with the mouth agape.
For example:
“The situation left everyone with puzzled looks on their face, as they couldn’t decipher the meaning behind the sudden announcement.”


Slack-jawed is just another way to say that the surprising situation left the person with their jaw dropped open. The slack-jawed look is an obvious sign of awe, surprise or shock. People experiencing these emotions will often open their mouths because they can’t believe what happened to them.
This is an example of how it may be used:
“She checked her mirrors twice before driving off, and ended up slack-jawed when she got into the accident.”


excited male female hipsters rejoice winning looking at the phone

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Unblinking means that the person or character is staring at something with their eyes open, fully focused on what is happening. They seem to be in a constant state between surprise and shock without varying their gaze for even a second.
For example:
“The scene was such a shock to everyone in the theatre that they stood there unblinking, not wanting to miss what would happen next.”


When people are caught off guard by something, their eyes sometimes appear to bulge as their eyebrows raise in shock.
For instance:
“His wide-eyed look showed he did not predict this outcome.”


5 of the best words for fearful expressions

Genuine fear happens when a person feels threatened by something/someone causing harm to themselves or others. In other words, it’s the anticipation of danger marked by anxiety and a loss of courage.
Here are some of the best words to describe fearful facial expressions :

This is good to use when something catches a character completely off guard. It doesn’t give them time to react or distinguish how to feel. When someone is alarmed, their eyes are open in fear and the muscles around the mouth tense up with a visible sign of distress displaying on their face. They might start to shake as well.
Here’s an example:
“She was visibly alarmed by the sight of her ex-husband, who is supposed to be on the flight now.”


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To dread something means you are not looking forward to it and will approach it with great apprehension and fear. The facial expression of a person who is with dread is one of sheer terror. They are unable to do anything about what’s happening before their eyes. The person’s mouth has formed a perfect ‘O’ and their brows are creased tightly together, giving them an intense look that says, “I’m dead scared.”
This is how it may be used:
“Harriet looked on with absolute dread as her son lay lifeless in the middle of the street.”


Use taut to describe a facial expression that is in a state of great tension. The eyes are wide open and locked into a fixed point. The person seems like they will break at any moment.
For example:
“His face was taut with fear and it seemed like he was about to pass out.”



This is the most generic of the words to describe facial expressions of fear, but it remains effective in writing, especially for less proficient readers. It captures the bare minimum of what you need to say and allows for generalization. The facial expression of a scared person is one that’s filled with fear. They may be blinking or looking around, and showing signs they’re grasping for air in order to calm down enough so as not break out into loud screams or tears at any moment; their body language becomes rigid while mouths form tight shapes.
Here’s an example of usage:
“There was no reason for her to look so scared, at least not to us.”


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A paranoid facial expression is created by extreme fear, even if there’s nothing to be afraid of. This can be a symptom of mental illness. If somebody is paranoid, the mouth opens and closes spasmodically, while the brows furrow deeply because they are concentrating on what’s happening around them or inside their head.
This is one way it may be used:
“We were concerned for him because of the paranoid look on his face and his apparent constant fear of something we didn’t notice.”


5 of the best words for shy/nervous facial expressions

Shyness or nervousness happens when a person feels uncomfortable in a situation or is put outside of his/her comfort zone. This feeling can be expressed through facial expressions, along with bodily language such as shaking, pacing or breathlessness/speechlessness.

Anxiety causes people to shake, look worried, feel tense or act restless due to an impending feeling of doom. This can arise in the simplest of situations, or in more confronting situations such as being put on the spot in a large arena. The facial expression of an anxious person can be seen in their furrowed brow and pursed lips.
Here’s how this facial expression may be described:
“The first applicant appeared anxious, but her face soon softened from the soothing voice and reassurance of her interviewer.”


frustrated sad woman in front of laptop feeling tired worried

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This type of facial expression is marked by avoidance, a lack of eye contact, and indirect speech. In some cases, it can be purposeful, but it can also be brought on by embarrassment.
For example:
“When asked about her opinion, she became coy and looked as though she wanted to vomit.”


This type of facial expression is extremely reserved. The person has a natural air of discretion and grace. They do nothing to draw attention to themselves and they attempt to become a blank canvas.
This is an example of usage:
“We all knew who her parents were and how wealthy they were, but she presented herself as a modest person, oblivious to her power.”


This facial expression is marked by avoidance. This person will not engage and will avoid all eye contact to avoid interactions. Their eyes are downturned and their brows furrow slightly as if in deep thought or sadness.
For instance:
“While everyone was busy socializing, I noticed a small boy in the corner with his head tucked in a book, appearing withdrawn and extremely introverted.”


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Brooding is good to use when someone is clearly nervous or fretting about something. It means they have got some serious thoughts running through their mind, and are thinking long and hard about what to do. A brooding person can convey a sense of intensity and purpose with their facial expressions. An instant giveaway for this emotion may seem like the downturned corners or furrows between brows.
For instance:
“He looked into the distance with brooding eyes, suggesting he was in deeper trouble than any of us thought.”


5 of the best words for aggressive facial expressions

Aggression may be described as a feeling of anger that translates into a readiness to attack or confront a person. Many times, before an assault or confrontation takes place, the facial expression gives a hint of what’s to come.
Here are 5 of the best words to describe facial expressions related to aggression:

When someone’s facial expression is described as black, it speaks to the absence of joy, and all goodness. What is left are signs of extreme anger that can escalate.
This is how you can describe it in your writing:
“When he heard what that girl had done to his daughter at school, his face suddenly turned black, and the tension in the air was as thick as could be.”


A hostile facial expression is one of complete resistance and disregard for whatever is being presented to someone, as they are entirely opposed to it. It is good to use in situations where a character is extremely disappointed or feels disrespected. The face muscles on their head might be twitching or bunching together in anger. The nose might flair out and the mouths contracts into an irritated line to show this anger. They will often show tension through stiff arms and legs as well as clenched fists.
For instance:
“As the senator addressed the angry crowd, their facial expressions became more hostile, and it was clear that he would need security immediately.”


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A piercing look is essentially a deep glare. The eyes remain fixed on the target and if something displeasing is said or done, he/she is at the ready.
An example of this is:
“The girl’s father held a piercing glare at those who bullied his daughter, warning them that there would be severe consequences if they ever approached her again.”


The use of this term likens the behavior of the person to an animal that is thrashing and showing teeth in a threatening manner. Usually, this is best used when the person is already cursing or shouting. A person with a snarling face has a blood thirsty look in their eyes that shows no sign of compassion or regret, and their mouth is drawn back in an aggressive manner.
This is an example of usage:
“It was the first time he witnessed her behave this way to anyone, and he was completely spellbound by her snarling face.”


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A wrathful appearance is one fueled by vengeance or extreme annoyance. It generally happens when one feels unfairly treated or disgruntled. The face of a person with a wrathful expression shows no sign of compassion or emotion. It’s just an empty, cold expression. Mouths move slowly while saying nothing at all; eyes are focused straight ahead without cracking.
For instance:
“The team trembled at the harsh words and wrathful expressions from their coach, and wondered if this was something every team had to endure.”


Bonus : Words to describe facial expressions of other natures


This facial expression displays strong disapproval of what was done or said, almost as if they could never believe someone could be this way. Their brows are furrowed in anger or fear and mouth turned downward in an expression known as “disgust”. However, it isn’t founded on anything solid and is based on complete snobbery.
For example:
“She walked around with her head held high, with great disgust on her face and a straight back, almost as if she cursed their existence.”


annoyed millennial man wearing polka dots disgust look smartphone

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A grimace is a look of scorn, disgust, and disapproval. A person’s facial muscles are contorting and twitching in an unwell way as if they are biting into a sour lemon, however, the only thing sour, in their opinion, is other people.
For instance:
“I was excited about meeting my mother-in-law, but was shut down by her grimacing appearance once I stepped into the room.”


young man tasting cooked food disgusted

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Obstinate is a word used to describe extreme stubbornness. This sometimes happens when a person believes they are always right, and the rest of us are simply stupid. Their facial expressions are often fixed, and they won’t back down from their opinion.
Here’s an example of usage:
“No matter how much we tried to show her the error in her ways, she brushed it off and sat with her arms folded and an obstinate scowl.”


Sour speaks to a facial expression that is unpleasant and without logical reason. There are many different facial expressions that people make when they’re feeling sour. One of these is a downturned mouth with a turned-up nose, which can be called “sourpuss.” In many cases, sour facial expressions are given when a person believes they are above a situation or people.
For example:
“She knew she would have a hard time fitting into that circle of women, and could not shake their sour faces and snide comments.”


Stern is best used to describe the expression of someone who is in authority or perceives themselves as more knowing and acceptable than others. When a person has a stern face, their eyes are wide, and they have their nose pointed straight up in the air. This type of expression may make others feel pressured, intimidated or insecure.
Here’s an example of usage:
“Adrian tried her best to transform her stern face to a smiling one but there was nothing that would break a woman of her stature.”


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This is good to use when someone refused to tell somebody else a piece of information.
Their eyes are wide, their lips are pressed together.
For example:
“The officers were unable to get any information out of her and she was tight-lipped about what happened in the house last night.”



Facial expressions are easy to recognize, but not always easy to describe. Use this list of words to describe facial expressions to help improve your writing and better connect with your audience/readers.