Build your emotional vocabulary

Learn to more accurately describe your emotions based on their level of intensity to improve communication and reduce misunderstanding.

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Why this matters

Emotions are a part of our daily experience. On any given day, your emotions may shift countless times in response to the situations you find yourself in. You may feel happy when you feel the sun on your face as you walk to the office, and annoyed when you discover that someone forgot to restock the coffee filters. Some situations are more complicated and elicit a complex mix of feelings.

For example, you might have mixed emotions about getting a promotion—on the one hand, you feel proud of your achievements, but on the other you feel nervous about the job and disappointed about the lack of a big raise. Our emotional experiences also vary in intensity depending on the importance of an event. For example, while being denied a morning coffee might cause you to feel slightly frustrated, being verbally assaulted by a friend might cause you to feel rage.

Describing your emotional experiences can help you identify the sources of your feelings and determine how to make positive changes. Having a wide vocabulary of emotion words is a great start.

Knowing a range of words that express varying levels of a particular feeling can also be useful in separating serious problems from not-so-serious problems.

Because our thoughts impact the way we feel, the words we choose to label our experiences can impact the intensity of our feelings. For example, try saying to yourself, “I’m terrified about the meeting”. Now try, “I’m uneasy about the meeting”. Feel the difference? Having a large emotional vocabulary at your disposal helps prevent you from over-reacting to stressful events.

Explore and reflect

Feeling angry

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly angry, you might describe yourself as:


Belligerent, Bitter, Enraged, Fuming, Furious, Incensed, Infuriated, Outraged, Provoked, Seething, Storming, Vengeful, Vindictive


Aggravated, Annoyed, Antagonistic, Crabby, Cranky, Exasperated, Fuming, Grouchy, Hostile, Ill-tempered, Indignant, Irate, Offended, Resentful, Sore, Spiteful, Testy, Ticked off


Bugged, Irritated, Dismayed, Impatient, Irked, Petulant, Resentful, Sullen, Uptight

Feeling afraid

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly afraid, you might describe yourself as:


Desperate, Distressed, Frightened, Horrified, Intimidated, Panicky, Paralyzed, Petrified, Shocked, Terrified, Terror-stricken


Alarmed, Apprehensive, Awkward, Defensive, Fearful, Fidgety, Fretful, Jumpy, Nervous, Restless, Scared, Shaky, Skittish, Tense, Threatened, Troubled, 


Antsy, Anxious, Careful, Cautious, Disquieted, Shy, Timid, Uneasy, Unsure, Watchful, Worried

Feeling sad

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly sad, you might describe yourself as:


Alienated, Beaten down, Bleak, Dejected, Depressed, Desolate, Despondent, Dismal, Empty, Gloomy, Grieved, Grim, Hopeless, In despair, Woeful


Awful, Blue, Crestfallen, Demoralized, Devalued, Discouraged, Dispirited, Distressed, Downcast, Downhearted, Fed up, Lost, Melancholy, Miserable, Regretful, Sorrowful, Tearful, Upset, Weepy


Blah, Disappointed, Down, Glum, In a funk, Low, Moody, Morose, Somber, Subdued, Uncomfortable, Unhappy

Learn about the responses to Loss and grief and ways you can cope after the death of a loved one or another significant loss.

Feeling confused

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly confused, you might describe yourself as:


Baffled, Befuddled, Chaotic, Confounded, Flustered, Rattled, Reeling, Shocked, Shook up, Speechless, Startled, Stumped, Stunned, Taken-aback, Thrown


Adrift, Ambivalent, Bewildered, Puzzled, Blurred, Disconcerted, Disordered, Disorganized, Disquieted, Disturbed, Dizzy, Foggy, Frozen, Frustrated, Mistaken, Misunderstood, Mixed up, Perplexed, Troubled


Distracted, Uncertain, Uncomfortable, Undecided, Unsettled, Unsure

Feeling hurt

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly hurt, you might describe yourself as:


Abused, Aching, Anguished, Crushed, Damaged, Degraded, Destroyed, Devastated, Discarded, Disgraced, Forsaken, Humiliated, Mocked, Punished, Rejected, Ridiculed, Ruined, Scorned, Wounded


Belittled, Cheapened, Criticized, Depreciated, Devalued, Discredited, Distressed, Impaired, Injured, Maligned, Marred, Miffed, Mistreated, Resentful, Troubled


Annoyed, Let down, Minimized, Neglected, Put down, Rueful, Tender, Unhappy, Used

Feeling lonely

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly lonely, you might describe yourself as:


Abandoned, Cut off, Dejected, Deserted, Despondent, Empty, Forsaken, Oppressed, Ostracized, Outcast, Rejected, Shunned


Alienated, Alone, Apart, Cheerless, Companionless, Estranged, Excluded, Isolated, Left out, Neglected, Uncherished


Detached, Discouraged, Distant, Melancholy, Separate, Withdrawn

Feeling guilty or ashamed

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly guilty or ashamed, you might describe yourself as:


Degraded, Delinquent, Disgraced, Exposed, Humiliated, Mortified, Shamed, Wrong


Apologetic, Contrite, Crestfallen, Culpable, Demeaned, Downhearted, Judged, Penitent, Regretful, Remorseful, Repentant, Shamefaced, Sorrowful


Bashful, Blushing, Chastened, Embarrassed, Flustered, Hesitant, Humble, Meek, Sheepish, Sorry

Feeling happy

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly happy, you might describe yourself as:


Delighted, Ecstatic, Elated, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Euphoric, Excited, Exhilarated, Overjoyed, Thrilled, Vibrant


Cheerful, Happy, In high spirits, Jovial, Light-hearted, Lively, Up


Contented, Cool calm and collected, Fine, Glad, Gratified, Pleasant, Pleased, Satisfied, Serene

Feeling grateful

When you're feeling intensely, moderately or mildly grateful, you might describe yourself as:


Adoring, Passionate, Committed, Devoted, Idolizing, Infatuated, Wild about


Admiring, Affectionate, Attached, Fond of, Kind-hearted, Loving, Tender, Trusting, Warm-hearted


Appreciative, Attentive, Considerate, Friendly, Interested in, Respecting, Thoughtful, Tolerant

Take action

The next time you are feeling:

  • Angry
  • Afraid
  • Sad
  • Defeated
  • Confused
  • Hurt
  • Lonely
  • Guilty or ashamed
  • Happy 
  • Grateful

Consider whether that feeling is intense, moderate or mild. Choose a different word that more accurately describes how you're feeling.

You can also use this approach when you're thinking about how someone else is reacting.

Additional resources

Emotional intelligence for employees. Free activities to increase your ability to manage your reactions and control how you impact others. Building your emotional intelligence can help reduce stress.

Worry myths. It’s rarely, if ever, helpful to worry. Learn fact from fiction when it comes to worry.


1. Drummond, T. (2021). Vocabulary of emotions [PDF].


Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann Baynton

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