How to describe emotions

As writers, we want our readers to connect emotionally to our characters and to feel their pains and struggles—but it can be tricky to know how to describe emotion to create that connection. Announcing, “He is sad!” or “She feels cheerful” is almost worse than leaving the reader guessing. It’s just a bald fact. It doesn’t invite the reader in, creating an emotional bond and letting the reader experience feelings along with the character. Here are some more effective ways to describe emotion.

How to describe emotions

How is he feeling?

One tool is to describe emotion through a character’s actions. For instance, the fourth grader who is walking home slowly, dragging his backpack, tennis shoes scuffing the sidewalk, eyes focused on the ground in front of him—is he pleased or bummed about the day he just had? We can make a pretty good guess.

Sometimes we choose to use physical actions in an effort to show, not tell, feelings. And that’s a great start. Maybe this fourth grader sees someone across the street and runs over to shove them, or hides behind a big tree. Yes, those actions both give us clues about how he’s feeling, but they can also be misinterpreted if we only get the physical actions without anything else.

Those are physical actions, but what about physical reactions that are specifically trying to describe a character’s emotions? When we use physical reactions to describe emotion, it can be so, so difficult not to fall into the trap of clichés. Hearts pounding, butterflies in the stomach, the brooding gaze, the grin stretched from ear to ear, the stomach dropping, a heart leaping into a throat or skipping a beat, eyes twinkling—these have all been used so often that they can make our writing feel a bit stale. Sometimes writers try to solve the difficulty of clichés by changing them just a bit. But altering them slightly, with a stomach clenching instead of dropping, isn’t usually much better.

Trying to describe emotion only through physical actions and reactions is too surface-level. Our fourth grader’s body language is giving us some clues, but we don’t actually know what, specifically, he’s feeling. Is it despair, embarrassment, fatigue, defeat, dread, humiliation—what?

Using dialogue as a way to show emotion can work well. Say our downcast fourth grader sprayed himself at the water fountain, and everyone laughed at him. He could say to his brother, “Don’t even ask about the water fountain,” “I’m quitting school,” “Please don’t tell Mom,” “I’m gonna get back at him,” or “Did you know that water fountain shoots up three feet in the air?” Dialogue can offer a lot of insight into how a character is processing their situation.

But the gold standard for creating an emotional connection between the reader and the character is interiority. Interiority is a character’s internal thoughts, feelings, reactions, hopes, and struggles. As novelists, one of our huge advantages over movies or TV shows is that we can jump into our characters’ heads to describe their emotions any time we like. We aren’t limited to close-ups of meaningful gazes and misty eyes while wondering what’s going on inside. We can actually experience emotions, feelings, and thoughts along with our characters.

Using a deep point of view offers us access to interiority in our characters. Filtering their physical actions and speech through our knowledge of that character’s inner workings makes all of it more meaningful and builds a strong emotional connection between the reader and the character. For example, our feet-dragging fourth grader says to his brother, “Please don’t tell Mom.” Then he thinks to himself, She’ll cry if she hears about everyone laughing at me. I can’t let her know. Not after everything that happened at our old school. I’ll have to pretend everything is fine. Got to get this out of my system before I get home.

On the other hand, maybe he says, “Please don’t tell Mom,” and thinks, She’ll ground me for a year. I’m always in trouble, even though it’s not my fault. He started it. Why am I the one who always gets caught? His thoughts put a whole different interpretation on those same slumped shoulders and line of dialogue. That’s why we can’t rely on physical markers and dialogue alone to describe emotion. You can read more about interiority here.

The combination of physical clues, dialogue, and rich interiority is the key to how to describe emotion and create that strong emotional connection between a reader and a character. Now, I’ll close my laptop, unwrap a chocolate, and say, “Finally!” That’s a relief. It was harder than I thought to explain how to describe emotion.

Many times the same adjectives are used to express feelings and emotions.

Feelings and emotions are very similar; however, emotions tend to refer to that which is not tangible, while feelings tend to be more tangible.

It can be difficult to find the right word to describe someone’s feelings or emotions.

Adjectives to Describe Someone’s Feelings and Emotions

Here are some adjectives to help you describe feelings & emotions.

  • Happy – I want to make you happy!
  • Afraid – I hope I can find the one who is afraid for losing me.
  • Sad – She was sad to see him go.
  • Hot – She was hotand breathless from the exertion of cycling uphill.
  • Amused – The patient was amusedat the music.
  • Bored – It was a cold, wet day and the children were bored.
  • Anxious – He was anxiousto preserve his reputation.
  • Confident – I’m confidentabout our victory.
  • Cold – I’m cold. Turn the heating up.
  • Suspicious – I think they’re starting to get suspicious.
  • Surprised – She was surprisedby the book’s success.
  • Curious – I was curiousto find out what she had said.
  • Envious – She was enviousof her sister’s beauty.
  • Jealous – I was jealousof Mary’s new bicycle.
  • Miserable – I have had a miserablelife.
  • Confused – People are confusedabout all the different labels on food these days.
  • Stupid – He is as stupidas a donkey.
  • Angry – Karen had seldom seen him so angry.
  • Sick – She was very sympathetic when I was sick.
  • Ashamed– He who is ashamed of asking is ashamed of learning.
  • Indifferent– People have become indifferent to the suffering of others.
  • Sorry– It is better to be safe than sorry.
  • Determined– He was determined to retrieve his honor.
  • Crazy– You’re crazy to go out in this weather.
  • Bashful– Don’t be bashful about telling people how you feel.
  • Depressed– She became severely depressed after her mother’s death.
  • Enraged– She was enraged at his stupidity.
  • Frightened– He was frightened at the sight of the dog.
  • Interested– I’ve always been interested in music.
  • Shy– He was too shy to speak to her.
  • Hopeful– I am hopeful that she will come tomorrow.
  • Nervous– I get very nervous before a big race.
  • Thirsty– She was so thirsty that she drained her cup.
  • Suspicious– I think they’re starting to get suspicious.
  • Stubborn– She can be as stubborn as a mule.
  • Scared– I’m scared to fly in an airplane.
  • Regretful– He is regretful for what he has done.
  • Embarrassed– He always mumbles when he’s embarrassed.
  • Confident– She sounded more confident than she felt.
  • Disgusted– I’m disgusted with the way that he was treated…

Emotion is a strong sentiment of any kind that you feel about someone or something. On the other hand, state of mind is referred to as feeling. Without feelings and emotions, life would be dreary. They add colour to our lives. Emotions are feelings such as angry, sad, happy, afraid etc.

The word emotion is derived from the Latin word ‘Emover’ which means to stir up’ or to excite’.

Emotions No matter how hard you try, you cannot control your emotions, and however some people are expert in hiding their emotions. Some people don’t have control over their anger. After taking their outrage on someone, they repent afterwards. Unpleasant emotions like fear, anger and jealousy which are harmful to the individual’s development are termed as negative emotions.

We have a list of more that 40 words to help you describe your feelings (state of mind) and emotions.

English Words to Describe Feelings and Emotions

Happy Afraid Sad Bored Anxious
Suspicious Surprised Confident Frightened Shy
Scared Hungry Worried Tired Disgusted
Embarrassed Jealous Determined Angry Curious
Enraged Hurt Frustrated Excited Aggressive
Thirsty Astonished Bored Confused Depressed
Devastated Disappointed Dismayed Eager Energetic
Frightened Furious Guilty Inspired Irritated
Playful Terrified Sentimental Annoyed Ambivalent
Fatigued Grumpy Jittery Nervous Outraged
Upset Wicked Awful Nutty Terrible
Tired Grumpy Lazy Naughty Cruel
Dizzy Evil Black Arrogant Confused

Emotions are known to have a stimulating effect for instance, a person who is happy make surrounding people happy also and a person who is sad or angry makes people sad or angry too. Thus feelings and emotions are contagious.

The ability to understand and interpret the emotional states of others is very important in our social life. Your sensation does not happen at spur. It starts off from thinking, mind images and self talks. What you witness, listen to or sense inside causes your feelings.

How to describe emotions

Emotion Regulation is the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy module that teaches how emotions work. It provides skills to help manage emotions instead of being managed by them, reduce vulnerability to negative emotions, and build positive emotional experiences. It’s very difficult to use the other skills in the module if you’re struggling to understand what you’re feeling. Luckily, DBT provides the framework for learners just beginning to analyze their emotions.

Being able to identify and describe your emotions is crucial to the Emotion Regulation module of DBT. To change the emotion you’re feeling, you must first identify and describe all parts of it. The following are all the steps in the emotional process.

1. Prompting event

Emotions can be either reactions to events in the environment or to things inside a person. These events and things are called Prompting Events. They prompt, or call forth the emotion. A person’s thoughts, behaviors and physical reactions prompt emotions. You might have an automatic feeling without thinking about it, like “I feel love when I see my cat.”

What triggers it or gets it going? Prompting events can be events happening in the present (an interaction with someone, losing something, physical illness, financial worries). A prompting event might also be a memory, a thought, or even another feeling (you feel ashamed, and then feel angry about feeling ashamed, for example). In managing your emotions, it is important to be able to recognize prompting events.

2. Interpretation of an event or experience

Most events outside ourselves don’t prompt emotions. It is the interpretation of the event that prompts the emotion. The emotion comes after the interpretation is made. It is triggered by the explanation you create in your head.

Here’s a chart of some examples of how events lead to interpretations which lead to emotions:

Event Interpretation Emotion
Seeing your boyfriend with your best friend They must’ve been talking about you Anger
Your car has a flat tire Someone did this Anger
It starts to storm You’ve heard of people being killed by lightning Fear
You see Maya at the concert with Leo after she promised to go with you Maya doesn’t care about you Sadness
You see Maya at the concert with Leo after she promised to go with you Maya is trying to get back at you Anger

As you can see in the last two entries in the chart, the same event can lead to different emotions based on your interpretation. Remember that your interpretation isn’t always factual . It is valid, but not fact.

3. Body Response to Emotions

When you experience emotions, there are changes in your body. Sometimes people have trouble sensing their body changes. To regulate your emotions you have to be pretty good at sensing what is going on in your body. If you have practiced shutting off our body sensations, this can be difficult. However it is a learned response and you can unlearn.

Emotions involve body changes such as tensing and relaxing muscles, changes in heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature and color, increases and decreases in blood pressure, etc. The most important of these changes for you to be aware of are the facial changes: clenched jaw, tightened cheek and forehead muscles, tightened muscles around the eyes so that they widen or narrow, grinding teeth, loosening and tightening around the mouth.

Take note of your posture and facial expression. Are you hunched over, trying to make yourself smaller? Are you smiling? What are your hands doing? Are they open, willing hands or are you wringing them? These seemingly small changes communicate a lot about how you’re feeling.

Researchers now believe that changes in the facial muscles play an important part in causing emotions. That’s why Half-Smile works.

4. Action Urges

Emotions involve what are called action urges. An important function of emotions is to prompt behaviors. For example if you feel angry, you may be prompted to fight. Or if you feel fear, you may be prompted to run.

The action itself, the fighting, or running, or hugging is not part of the emotion, but the urge to do the action, the feeling that prompts you to do the action, is considered part of the emotion. For example, if you feel angry at someone, you may feel an urge to start yelling at them. That urge is part of the angry feeling. But the fighting is not part of the feeling.

5. Expression and Communication

One of the most important functions of emotions is to communicate. In order to communicate something, an emotion has to be expressed. Sometimes, if you have not learned to express your emotions, you may think you are communicating but the other person isn’t getting it. This can cause misunderstandings.

Emotions are expressed by facial expressions, words and actions. Expressing emotions through behaviors can also cause problems, because different people interpret behaviors in different ways.

List of emotions! In this lesson, you will learn a huge list of emotions and feelings words with the picture that you can use to describe feelings and emotions in English.

Table of Contents

List of Emotions

Learn emotions list in English

  • Depressed
  • Desperate
  • Dejected
  • Heavy
  • Crushed
  • Disgusted
  • Upset
  • Sorrowful
  • Mournful
  • Weepy
  • Frustrated
  • Dismayed


  • Amused
  • Delighted
  • Glad
  • Pleased
  • Charmed
  • Grateful
  • Optimistic
  • Content
  • Joyful
  • Enthusiastic
  • Loving
  • Marvelous
  • Jealous
  • Betrayed
  • Isolated
  • Shock
  • Let down
  • Tender
  • Wounded
  • Impaired
  • Damaged
  • Criticized
  • Abused
  • Crushed
  • Punished
  • Rejected
  • Forgotten


  • Anxious
  • Troubled
  • Uncomfortable
  • Stunned
  • Mixed up
  • Unsure
  • Stuck
  • Hurt
  • Frozen
  • Desperate


  • Annoyed
  • Agitated
  • Raging
  • Furious
  • Livid
  • Bitter
  • Fed up
  • Irritated
  • Mad
  • Critical
  • Resentful
  • Disgusted
  • Outraged

List of Emotions and Feelings | Infographic

How to describe emotions


  • Dynamic
  • Tenacious
  • Hardy
  • Sure
  • Certain
  • Unique
  • Secure
  • Empowered
  • Ambitious
  • Powerful
  • Confident
  • Bold
  • Determined


  • Strengthened
  • Motivated
  • Focused
  • Invigorated
  • Determined
  • Inspired
  • Creative
  • Healthy
  • Renewed
  • Vibrant
  • Refreshed


  • Shy
  • Lost
  • Unsure
  • Uncertain
  • Upset
  • Doubtful
  • Uncertain
  • Indecisive
  • Perplexed
  • Embarrassed
  • Hesitant
  • Pessimistic
  • Tense


  • Isolated
  • Self-conscious
  • Lonely
  • Inferior
  • Ashamed
  • Pathetic
  • Confused
  • Guilty
  • Repugnant

List of Emotions and Feelings | Infographic

Categories of Emotions

The list of emotions a typical pre-K child understands may be limited to happy, mad, sad, and scared (Harter, S., & Buddin, B. J.), but as they grow, the list expands, and they develop a more nuanced vocabulary to explain how they feel.

Over the past 40 years, several frameworks have emerged to describe and categorize emotions. There is the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions, Ekmans’ Atlas of Emotions, and many others, but for this article, we are sharing a tree-like framework created by Dr. Phillip Shaver and his colleagues at the University of Denver.

In 1987, Shaver and his colleagues published Emotion Knowledge: Further Exploration of a Prototype Approach where they outlined a three-level hierarchy of emotions and categorized words within that hierarchy. In the paper, they identifed six primary emotions: Anger, Fear, Joy, Love, Sadness, and Surprise – And they identifed 25 secondary emotions and 135 words that represent more descriptive tertiary emotions.

How to describe emotions

Here is the complete list of emotions and how they are categorized:

  1. Anger
    • Disgust: Contempt, disgust, revulsion
    • Envy: Envy, jealousy
    • Exasperation: Exasperation, frustration
    • Irritation: Aggravation, agitation, annoyance, grouchiness, grumpiness, irritation
    • Rage: Anger, bitterness, dislike, ferocity, fury, hate, hostility, loathing, outrage, rage, resentment, scorn, spite, vengefulness, wrath
    • Torment: Torment
  2. Fear
    • Horror: Alarm, fear, fright, horror, hysteria, mortification, panic, shock, terror
    • Nervousness: Anxiety, apprehension, distress, dread, nervousness, tenseness, uneasiness, worry
  3. Joy
    • Cheerfulness: Amusement, bliss, cheerfulness, delight, ecstasy, elation, enjoyment, euphoria, gaiety, gladness, glee, happiness, jolliness, joviality, joy, jubilation, satisfaction
    • Contentment: Contentment, pleasure
    • Enthrallment: Enthrallment, rapture
    • Optimism: Eagerness, hope, optimism
    • Pride: Pride, triumph
    • Relief: Relief
    • Zest: Enthusiasm, excitement, exhilaration, thrill, zeal, zest
  4. Love
    • Affection: Adoration, affection, attraction, caring, compassion, fondness, liking, love, sentimentality, tenderness
    • Longing: Longing
    • Lust: Arousal, desire, infatuation, lust, passion
  5. Sadness
    • Disappointment: Disappointment, dismay, displeasure
    • Neglect: Alienation, defeat, dejection, embarrassment, homesickness, humiliation, insecurity, isolation, insult, loneliness, neglect, rejection
    • Sadness: Depression, despair, gloom, glumness, grief, hopelessness, melancholy, misery, sadness, sorrow, unhappiness, woe
    • Shame: Guilt, regret, remorse, shame
    • Suffering: Agony, anguish, hurt, suffering
    • Sympathy: Pity, sympathy
  6. Surprise
    • Surprise: Amazement, astonishment, surprise

Teaching Emotional Literacy

Featured Lessons

To assist you as you help students understand emotions, we have created a series of lessons, worksheets, and printables. Many of these include characters from our online SEL games; however you aren’t required to use the online programs in order to use the lessons.

How to describe emotions

Emotional Spectrum

It’s important that students learn to identify the degree of emotion they are feeling and use words that are more descriptive than mad, sad, happy, etc.

In these worksheets, students will read emotion words that describe the range of one emotion and identify situations that make them feel that way.

How to describe emotions

Identifying Emotions Activity

Identifying and managing feelings requires that we respond to emotional situations in a socially acceptable manner, and research shows that children who are good at identifying and managing their emotions feel better about themselves and have more successful friendships.

This identifying emotions activity will students learn to recognize the physical signs associated with different emotions.

How to describe emotions

Anger Thermometer

Everyone feels angry from time to time, and it can be an overwhelming emotion. And like other emotions, anger comes in different strengths or degrees.

Using this anger thermometer worksheet, students will reflect on situations where they feel angry and brainstorm ideas for how to calm down.

How to describe emotions

Emotion Faces

These emotion faces worksheets will help your students evaluate facial expressions and associate those expressions with a range of emotions.

In the lesson, we use characters from our online SEL game, Adventures Aboard the SS GRIN to illustrate the following feelings: angry, anxious, bored, confused, happy, impatient, sad, scared, and surprised.

Learn how to describe people in English including appearance, character traits and emotions.

How to Describe People in English

An adjective is a describing word, the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified.

In this lesson, we will learn useful Adjectives to describe people in three ways:

1. Describing someone’s appearance

2. Describing someone’s character and personality

3. Describing someone’s feelings & emotions

How to Describe a Person in English

How to describe emotions

1. Describing Someone’s Appearance

Appearance is defined as the way someone or something looks.

This is list of adjectives to describe a person’s appearance:

  • beautiful (My younger sister is very beautiful.)
  • handsome (He’s the most handsome man I’ve ever met.)
  • cute (That’s a cute little baby.)
  • thin (She was looking pale and thin.)
  • tall (She’s tall and thin.)
  • chubby (She was eleven years old and pretty in a chubby sort of way.)
  • muscular (He was tall, lean and muscular.)
  • attractive (The actress is an attractive woman.)

How to describe emotions

2. Describing Someone’s Character and Personality

Character traits are qualities or characteristics that describe what a person is like. It’s important to be able to describe your own personality or someone else’s.

Here is a list of English Adjectives to describe someone’s personality.

  • polite (Please be polite to our guests.)
  • friendly (Everyone was very friendly towards me.)
  • honest (He was a hard-working honest man.)
  • generous (She’s always very generous to the kids.)
  • rude (She was very rude about my driving.)
  • lazy (He is the laziest boy in the class.)
  • angry (I was very angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake.)

How to describe emotions

How to describe emotions

How to describe emotions

How to describe emotions

How to describe emotions

How to describe emotions

3. Describing Someone’s Feelings & Emotions

Sometimes it’s hard to explain exactly how you feel. This vocabulary list helps you narrow down exactly what word best expresses your current emotional state.

  • terrified (She looked at him with wide, terrified eyes.)
  • exhausted (You look absolutely exhausted.)
  • scared (People are scared to use the buses late at night.)
  • nervous (She was so nervous about her exams that she couldn’t sleep.)
  • embarrassed (She’s embarrassed about her height.)

26 Beautiful Words That Perfectly Describe Emotions You Could Never Explain Before

In our day to day life, there are so many emotions that one experiences which end up going unnoticed because you just can’t find the right way to describe them. Feelings that have the power to consume you completely; the connection you feel with an author who changed your life, but whom you’ll never meet, the awareness of how small your perspective in life is, the frustration of not being able to enjoy experiences as much as you should, and more.

Many times, experiencing these emotions, both the happy and sad ones makes one feel alone and disconnected, ‘The nobody really gets me syndrome.’ Thankfully, that’s not true and this time, we have proof to substantiate that.

We came across The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and suddenly all these lonely feels seem to have disappeared.

What started of as a Tumblr page by John Koenig, now has a dedicated Youtube channel and a very loyal fan following. As you scroll down, you’ll have enough deja vu moments because, like creator Koenig, we’ve all felt these exact emotions before. That’s the beauty of this page, which now has people commenting and sharing feelings they need names for.

We picked some of our favourite words from this dictionary for you to understand and relate with. The words may not exist yet, but who’s stopping us from using them?

They’re not a part of any dictionary yet, but we think they should be. Don’t you?