Word Smith: Tear

It is a simple four letter word: TEAR. Right?

Yet is has so many meanings in the English language. How do we know exactly what the meaning of the word is? That meaning comes only in context. Tear can be both a verb and a noun with several distinct variations. For example: Tear (noun) and tears (plural) are a clear liquid secreted by the lacrimal glands found in the eyes of all land mammals. Their functions to our health include lubricating the eyes, removing irritants, and aiding the immune system. Tears also occur as a part of our human body’s natural, physical or emotional pain-response. Yet as a noun it can also be pronounced differently (t-air) and represent a rip in your jeans. And tear (verb) sounds exactly as does the noun (homonym to t-air) and can be a solitary, violent action, as in tearing something apart. Let’s dive in deeper and see what is going on inside and out. According to the Oxford English dictionary: [1]


  1. To pull or rip (something) apart or to pieces with force. Example: “I will tear up the letter” Similar meanings of the verb include: rip up, rip in two, pull apart, pull to pieces, or shred.
  2. INFORMAL meanings in the US include a long list: move very quickly in a reckless or excited manner. As in “She longed to tear along the footpath on her new bike.” Similar meanings of this informal usage include: sprint, race, run, dart, rush, dash, hasten, hurry, scurry, scuttle, scamper, hare, bolt, bound, fly, gallop, career, charge, pound, shoot, hurtle, speed, streak, flash, whiz, zoom, sweep, go like lightning, go hell for leather, go like the wind, pelt, scoot, hotfoot it, belt, zip, whip, go like a bat out of hell, step on it, get a move on, get cracking, put on some speed, stir one’s stumps, go like the clappers, bomb, bucket, leg it, wheech, boogie, hightail it, barrel, get the lead out, cut along, post haste
  3. Opposite: stroll, take it easy, amble.
Tear the fabric of our family


  1. A hole or split in something caused by it having been pulled apart forcefully. Example: “There was a diagonal tear in her dress.” Similar: rip, hole, split, rent, cut, slash, slit, ladder, run in stocking, snag.
  2. INFORMAL meanings in the US include: a brief spell of erratic or unrestrained behavior; a binge or spree. Example: “One of my drinking buddies came for the weekend and he went on a tear.”
Why do jeans with a tear in them cost more? (not a fashionista)

[1] Definitions from Oxford Languages