Accessibility links

Breaking News

Let Something 'Pull at Your Heartstrings'

In this image taken from video, sheep form the shape of a heart in a field in Guyra, northern New South Wales, Australia, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. Ben Jackson, a sheep farmer stuck in lockdown, was unable to attend his aunt's funeral, has honored her memor
Let Something 'Pull at Your Heartstrings'
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:05:20 0:00

And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

February 14th is Valentine’s Day in the United States and other countries. It is the day to express love and warm feelings for those important people in our lives.

So, today we will talk about an expression that is all about deep feelings – to pull at one’s heartstrings.

When something pulls at your heartstrings, it makes you feel strongly. It creates a deep well of emotion right in the center of your heart.

Things that tug at our heartstrings also stir our feelings and emotions. They bring them to the surface.

What kinds of things have this effect on us? Well, that depends on who you are.

If you love a well-told story, a well-written book can pull at your heartstrings. A friend of mine loves art. Once I saw her crying in front of a painting. The colors she said really tugged at her heartstrings. People who love movies can have their heartstrings pulled by a good film. I love music. So, for me, the right song or even the right notes will pull at my heartstrings.

But we don’t use this expression for all feelings. For example, anger is not an emotion that is connected to this expression. The feelings that are at play with this expression can be happy or sad. Usually those emotions are ones of love, longing or both.

Sympathy, pity, or compassion are common emotions we think of when we hear the expression “pull at your heartstrings.”

Public aid campaigns and commercials often try to tug at our heartstrings. Think of seeing a puppy left out in the cold, or an old married couple who can’t pay for needed medication. Both of those examples try to tug at your heartstrings and your wallet as well.

Now, let’s talk about some notes on usage.

The verbs we often use for this expression are pull, pluck, and tug. Sometimes you might hear they expression said as “to play on someone’s heartstrings.” But that is a little less common.

Also, you don’t always have to use the preposition “at.” You can simply say something “tugs the heartstrings.”

And sometimes the word “heartstrings” is used on its own. For example, a critic might say a movie “aims for the heartstrings but misses … hitting the funny bone instead.”

Some word experts say that in medieval times it was thought that “heartstrings” were tissues that supported the heart. So, if you pulled them, you controlled the heart and the emotions.

Now, here is the expression used between two friends.

Did you see the new children’s movie that just came out – The Long Lost Lonely Little Ladybug?

That’s a children’s movie? It sounds so … sad.

It is. I watched it last night and I cried for hours afterward.

That sounds awful.

Oh no, it was just what I needed – a good cry. I’m still thinking about it today. That movie really pulled at my heartstrings.

I don’t mind a good movie that pulls at my heartstrings. But it sounds like this movie pulled them right out of your chest. Maybe next time … watch a comedy!

And that’s all the time we have this Words and Their Stories. Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

tug – v. to pull hard

stir – v. to cause to arise or take place

emotion – n. strong feeling (as anger, love, joy, or fear) often accompanied by a physical reaction

sympathy – n. the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, etc. : a sympathetic feeling

pity – n. a strong feeling of sadness or sympathy for someone or something

compassion – n. pity for and a desire to help someone

funny bone – n. a sense of humor

comedy – n. an amusing play that has a happy ending : an amusing and often ridiculous event