Word of the Day: tear

Word of the Day
July 20, 2016
tear  (noun, verb)
/tɪr/, /tɛr/  sound icon
A tear is a drop of liquid that comes out of our eyes when we cry. As a verb, we can use tear to talk about eyes, meaning 'to fill with tears.' However, tear has another and completely different meaning; as a verb, it means 'to pull something apart or into pieces using force' or 'to make a hole in something in the same way.' Used with away it also means 'to remove oneself with effort' or 'to take something away with violence.' In this sense, and as a noun, a tear is the act of tearing, a hole that has been torn in something, and, figuratively, a burst of passion.


Example sentences
Paul hid his pain well, with just one single tear falling from his eye.
Imogen's vision blurred as her eyes teared.
Josh read the letter carefully before tearing it into tiny pieces.
I can't believe I've torn a hole in my new jeans; I only bought them yesterday!
Amber knew she had to tear herself away from the TV and do some work, but she really didn't want to.
Daniel grabbed the book and tore it away from Mark.
The tear in Susan's skirt was getting bigger.


Words often used with tear
in tears: crying. Example: "John was in tears by the end of the movie."
Multi-word forms
tear something up: rip something into pieces. Example: "Sonya printed out her speech and read through it, but she didn't like it, so she tore it up and started again."
tear something down: demolish, destroy. Example: "That old building is beyond repair, so the council is going to tear it down and build something new." You can also use this phrase figuratively to talk about thoroughly refuting somebody's argument. Example: "The government claimed the policy was necessary, but the opposition tore their arguments down."
tear into something: open something by pulling it apart. Example: "Ben tore into his birthday presents."
tear something off: sever something by pulling it. Example: "Jared was so hungry, he tore off a piece of bread and started eating it."
Did you know?
The expression tear (or pull) your hair out is often used in English, but it doesn't literally mean someone is pulling out handfuls of hair. We use this expression to mean that we are very stressed or worried about something, especially when we are running out of ideas for a solution to a problem. Example: "Carl's daughter refuses to go to school. He's tried everything, but even if he takes her to class, she just leaves as soon as she can. He's tearing his hair out, the poor man!"
Tear, meaning 'a drop of water coming from your eye,' can be traced to before 900. In Middle English it was teer, and in Old English tēar, tehher, or taeher; in fact, its roots can be traced back to *dahkru-, a word from Proto-Indo-European (the ancient language from which all European languages stem). Both the Latin lacrima and the Greek dákryma come from this old word. Interestingly, there was a related verb in Old English: taeherian or tearian, meaning 'to weep,' but it did not make it into Middle English. Instead, to be in tears has been used since around 1550.
The second meaning (and pronunciation) of tear, meaning to pull something apart, is just as old. Similar words in many languages can all be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European stem *der-, which meant to split, peel or flay. We first see tear in the Old English teren, which meant 'to lacerate' or 'to split.' It became teren in Middle English, before taking the form we recognize today. The noun meaning 'a split or hole' comes from the verb. It was first used around 1660 and comes from the verb.
Tear in other languages
Tear was suggested by Enrique S. P. from Spain.
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