How can you express sadness without using any word non-figuratively related to sadness? I have been told that in poetry you need to "Show, but not tell" instead of saying thing literally, so I am seriously wondering how you can express sadness without using any literal word related to the concept of sadness. There are probably many techniques, but I can't really think of many to be honest.

4 Answers 4


Posture: He drooped, head bowed, shoulders forward, back bent, silently dragging his feet as he went...

Gaze: Her eyes were unfocused, staring into an empty distance...

Probably other physical ways also.


You can also express sadness, depression or unhappiness etc indirectly through the way the person sees the world ie The window unremittently showed him a bleak landscape; She saw the gravestone's worn engraving, she struggled to hear his voice in her head; The cat's milk saucer, dried up and unwashed for weeks,reminded her of her loss, yet its removal would deprive her of a last link. How, and in what particular way do you feel, when you or the person you are writing about is sad? – Ask yourself this, and your own personal, individual sense of sadness will come to the fore.


Research the ways of sadness.

What kind of sadness is it? Just regular sadness, mild depression, severe depression, etc.? And if it is depression, what type of depression?

Look up the different ways depression/sadness manifests itself into men and women differently. There are many symptoms, with men's and women's diverging somewhat. For example, women tend to be more verbal, while men tend to "act out" more (alcohol, drugs, anger, irritability, etc.)

Search whatever else you need, such as the reasons why it happens.

Keep these things in mind as you go along, and keep the character's personality and life in mind as well.

Find out how people with sadness have felt. You will need multiple examples, since not everyone is the same. We're all unique and different, and that's what makes us normal.

Good luck.

  • 1
    Yes, and people wiith chemical depression may express the resulting sadness that they feel differently than they would express sadness that they feel as a result of, say, bereavement, or of their team losing the game. May 29, 2020 at 13:37
  • @StephenDaddona Agreed. There are many different types and ways that it can form. May 29, 2020 at 15:05
  • Just going to put this out there, Depression (MDD, Dysthymia, PDD, BDI, BDII, etc.) is far different from sadness, and so to is bereavement. The three should not be conflated as being just extreme or benign forms of the other. Sep 21, 2020 at 15:15
  • @BrianHinman Actually, we all (or at least most) have moments of depression. However, depression that lasts a long time is bad. Oct 7, 2020 at 22:23
  • 1
    @AcidKritana So, to correct your conception about these things, the "depression" you're referring to with "...moments of depression" [with respect to the way you use it] is a colloquialism. It refers to non-problematic sadness. The "depression" you're referring to with "...depression that lasts a long time is bad" is Dysthymia, or Persistent Depressive Disorder, which does last a long time, about 2 years. However, other forms of depression, say MDD, lasts a lot shorter, about 2 weeks. Given the context of the question, it's referring to pathological depression, not colloquial depression Oct 8, 2020 at 1:36

There are many ways to talk about emotions obliquely. You can put them into metaphors:

The ocean is gray, and I am lost in the tidepools, with their swirling sands.

You can talk about the context:

Day fifty-three since she left, and the house grows ever more quiet

You can deny them.

Why do you ask? I've never felt happier! Why shouldn't I be happy?

You can depict them physically.

What is this wetness on my cheek?

Or all of the above

The ocean is gray
and I am lost in the tidepools
with their swirling sands: Day fifty-three
since she left
and the house grows evermore quiet
Why do you ask?
I've never felt happier!
Why shouldn't I be happy?
What is this wetness
on my cheek?

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