Smiling is a great way to show someone you like them or are happy to see them. But did you know there is a difference between saying “smile at me” and “smile to me”? Let’s take a closer look at the difference between these two expressions.
The expressions “smile to me” and “smile at me” are both correct. However, they have some subtle differences. Most of the time (I want to bet 95% of the time), native English speakers say, “smile at me.” This is the more common usage, and it is used in almost all situations where you would use the word “smile.”
The other 5% of the time, you might want to use “smile to me.” This may have a more specific usage, and it usually only comes up when you are trying to communicate some underlying message via the smile.
Smile at me
The expression “smile at me” is used to describe the act of smiling while looking at someone. This could be a friendly smile, an amused smile, or even a malicious smile. It doesn’t really matter what type of smile it is; if you are looking at someone while you are smiling, you are smiling “at” them.
“Smile at” Example Sentences:
Here are some example sentences with “smile at” someone:
- The cashier smiled at me when I handed her the money.
- My boss smiled at me in a way that made me very nervous.
- I smiled at my friend, and then we both started laughing.
Smile to me
The expression “smile to me” is used when you want to describe a smile that is directed at you, but there is some underlying message being communicated via the smile.
This might be a flirty smile, a sarcastic smile, or even a sincere smile. It doesn’t really matter what type of smile it is; if the person is trying to communicate something to you beyond just the act of smiling, they are smiling “to” you.
You can also use “smile at” for this purpose, but some people prefer to use “smile to” in such instances.
“Smile to” Example Sentences
Here are some example sentences with “smile to” someone:
- She smiled to me in a way that made it clear she was interested.
- Alice smiled to the security guard as she walked past.
- He smiled to me in a way that let me know he was joking.
- I could tell from the way she was smiling to me that she sympathized.
“Smile to” Vs. “Smile at”
According to Google Ngram Viewer, “smile at” is used much more frequently than “smile to.” This shouldn’t be too surprising since, as we mentioned before, “smile at” can be used in almost any situation where you would use the word “smile.”
So, which should you use?
For the most part, you should just use “smile at.” It is by far the more common expression, and it can be used in almost any situation where you want to use the word “smile.”
However, there are some cases where “smile to” might be a better choice. If you want to emphasize that the person was trying to communicate something beyond just the act of smiling, “smile to” can be a good option.
There is debate in the English learning community whether “smile to me” is even correct English. In fact, Grammarly, the grammar checker tool, shows it up as an error in its AI interface. While I have heard it spoken and have used it myself in the past, its inferiority should be acknowledged.
Smile to Yourself
The expression “smile to yourself” is used when you want to describe the act of smiling without being directed at anyone else. This could be because you are happy, amused, or even proud of yourself. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is; if you are smiling without looking at anyone, you are smiling “to yourself. “
“Smile to yourself” is quite a common expression. If you “smile at yourself,” it means that you are looking in the mirror and smiling at your reflection.
Myself, yourself, himself, herself, etc. are all known as reflexive pronouns.
“Smile to Yourself” Examples
Here are some example sentences with “smile to” + reflexive pronoun:
- I couldn’t help but smile to myself when I saw how surprised he was.
- After I finished the project, I smiled to myself with pride.
- I opened the text message and smiled to myself in amusement.
So, which should you use? “Smile at” or “smile to?”
For the most part, you should just use “smile at.” It is by far the more common expression, and it can be used in any situation where you would want to use the word “smile.”
However, there are some cases where “smile to” might be a better choice. If you want to emphasize that the person was trying to communicate something beyond just the act of smiling, “smile to” is a good option.
And finally, don’t forget about “smiling to yourself!” This is a perfectly valid expression that is quite common.
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I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
I love learning new things about the English language and how to teach it better. I'm always trying to improve my knowledge, so I can better meet the needs of others!
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