a drop of the saline, watery fluid continually secreted by the lacrimal glands between the surface of the eye and the eyelid, serving to moisten and lubricate these parts and keep them clear of foreign particles.
this fluid appearing in or flowing from the eye as the result of emotion, especially grief: to shed tears.
something resembling or suggesting a tear, as a drop of a liquid or a tearlike mass of a solid substance, especially having a spherical or globular shape at one end and tapering to a point at the other: teardrop earrings.
Glassmaking. a decorative air bubble enclosed in a glass vessel; air bell.
tears, grief; sorrow.

verb (used without object)

to fill up and overflow with tears, as the eyes (often followed by up): My eyes were tearing in the wind. He teared up when he heard the news.


    in tears, weeping: He was in tears over the death of his dog.

Origin of tear

before 900; (noun) Middle English teer, Old English tēar, tehher, taeher; cognate with Old High German zahar, Old Norse tār, Gothic tagr, Greek dákry, Latin lacrima (see lachrymal); (v.) Middle English teren, Old English teheran, in teherende (gerund), derivative of the noun



verb (used with object), tore or (Archaic) tare, torn or (Archaic) tare, tear·ing.

to pull apart or in pieces by force, especially so as to leave ragged or irregular edges.
to pull or snatch violently; wrench away with force: to tear wrappings from a package; to tear a book from someone's hands.
to distress greatly: anguish that tears the heart.
to divide or disrupt: a country torn by civil war.
to wound or injure by or as if by rending; lacerate.
to produce or effect by rending: to tear a hole in one's coat.
to remove by force or effort: to be unable to tear oneself from a place.

verb (used without object), tore or (Archaic) tare, torn or (Archaic) tare, tear·ing.

to become torn.
to make a tear or rent.
to move or behave with force, violent haste, or energy: The wind tore through the trees; cars tearing up and down the highway; I was tearing around all afternoon trying to find sandals for the beach.


the act of tearing.
a rent or fissure.
a rage or passion; violent flurry or outburst.
Informal. a spree.

Verb Phrases

tear at,
  1. to pluck violently at; attempt to tear: She tore at the bandages until they loosened.
  2. to distress; afflict: remorse that tears at one's soul.
tear down,
  1. to pull down; destroy; demolish.
  2. to disparage or discredit: to tear down one's friends behind their backs.
tear into, Informal.
  1. to attack impulsively and heedlessly: He tore into the food with a will.
  2. to attack verbally: She tore into him for being late for dinner.
tear off, Slang. to perform or do, especially rapidly or casually: to tear off a poem; to tear off a set of tennis.
tear up,
  1. to tear into small shreds: He tore up the drawings because she had criticized them.
  2. to cancel or annul: to tear up a contract.

Origin of tear

before 900; Middle English teren (v.), Old English teran; cognate with Dutch teren, German zehren to consume, Gothic distairan to destroy, Greek dérein to flay
Related formstear·a·ble, adjectivetear·a·ble·ness, nountear·er, nounun·tear·a·ble, adjective

Synonym study

1. Tear, rend, rip mean to pull apart. To tear is to split the fibers of something by pulling apart, usually so as to leave ragged or irregular edges: to tear open a letter. Rend implies force or violence in tearing apart or in pieces: to rend one's clothes in grief. Rip implies vigorous tearing asunder, especially along a seam or line: to rip the sleeves out of a coat.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tear

Contemporary Examples of tear

Historical Examples of tear

  • No one has seen him shed a tear, of heard him utter a complaint.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • Did you read my note--or did you tear it up like the other one?


    William J. Locke

  • What could a heart then do but tear itself to pieces, think-thinking?

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • Young Lady, who reads Dickens (wiping away the tear of imbecility).

  • At least I shall no longer have to tear my heart out, meeting Ned in her house.

British Dictionary definitions for tear




a drop of the secretion of the lacrimal glandsSee tears
something shaped like a hanging dropa tear of amber
Also called (esp Brit): teardrop
Derived Formstearless, adjective

Word Origin for tear

Old English tēar, related to Old Frisian, Old Norse tār, Old High German zahar, Greek dakri



verb tears, tearing, tore or torn

to cause (material, paper, etc) to come apart or (of material, etc) to come apart; rip
(tr) to make (a hole or split) in (something)to tear a hole in a dress
(intr often foll by along) to hurry or rushto tear along the street
(tr; usually foll by away or from) to remove or take by force
(when intr, often foll by at) to cause pain, distress, or anguish (to)it tore at my heartstrings to see the starving child
tear one's hair informal to be angry, frustrated, very worried, etc


a hole, cut, or split
the act of tearing
a great hurry; rush
on a tear slang showing a sudden burst of energy
Derived Formstearable, adjectivetearer, noun

Word Origin for tear

Old English teran; related to Old Saxon terian, Gothic gatairan to destroy, Old High German zeran to destroy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for tear

"water from the eye," Old English tear, from earlier teahor, tæhher, from Proto-Germanic *takh-, *tagr- (cf. Old Norse, Old Frisian tar, Old High German zahar, German Zähre, Gothic tagr "tear"), from PIE *dakru-/*draku- (cf. Latin lacrima, Old Latin dacrima, Irish der, Welsh deigr, Greek dakryma). Tear gas first recorded 1917.


"pull apart," Old English teran (class IV strong verb; past tense tær, past participle toren), from Proto-Germanic *teran (cf. Old Saxon terian, Middle Dutch teren "to consume," Old High German zeran "to destroy," German zehren, Gothic ga-tairan "to tear, destroy"), from PIE *der- "tear" (cf. Sanskrit drnati "cleaves, bursts," Greek derein "to flay," Armenian terem "I flay," Old Church Slavonic dera "to burst asunder," Breton darn "piece").

The Old English past tense survived long enough to get into Bible translations as tare before giving place 17c. to tore, which is from the old past participle toren. Sense of "to pull by force" (away from some situation or attachment) is attested from late 13c. To be torn between two things (desires, loyalties, etc.) is from 1871.


1650s, mainly in American English, from tear (n.1). Related: Teared; tearing. Old English verb tæherian did not survive into Middle English.


"act of ripping or rending," 1660s, from tear (v.1).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tear in Science



A drop of the clear salty liquid secreted by glands (lacrimal glands) in the eyes. Tears wet the membrane covering the eye and help rid the eye of irritating substances.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with tear


In addition to the idioms beginning with tear

  • tear apart
  • tear around
  • tear at
  • tear away
  • tear down
  • tear into
  • tear it
  • tear off
  • tear one's hair

also see:

  • rip (tear) into
  • wear and tear

Also see undertearstorn.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.