Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning that when you make a purchase, I earn a small commission. Affiliate links cost you nothing to use and help keep my content free. It is a win-win for us both! For more info, see the Disclosure Policy.
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.
Struggling to understand and communicate with native English speakers? Innovative Language provides short lessons for fast and effective learning. Get personalized guidance from a teacher and complete it at your own pace.
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.
Thanks for reading! Please comment to let me know if you found this helpful or share it with friends who want to improve their English language skills!
6-Day English Challenge
Sign up for my free 6-day challenge + English vocabulary planner to improve your English skills. Practice for just 10 minutes per day and see the results! Sign up here.
One-on-One and Group Classes (Free Trial!)
Language lessons and targeted rapid learning at Lingoda to improve confidence. Classes are available 24/7 in English, Business English, German, French, and Spanish. Get a 7-day trial here.
Learn to READ AND WRITE
Learn how to write the letters of the alphabet and common English words with my printables available here. Improve early reading scores by 74% with the early learning program Homer.
Most Common Words in English
Did you know 3000 words in English make up about 95% of everyday conversation? Learn the 2000 most common words in English completely FREE when you sign up for English Class 101— no credit card required! Also, check out their monthly free gifts selection.
English Language Learning Videos
Study and learn English independently and at your own pace with the successful Building Your English Brain and English Vocabulary Launch: Upgrade your Speaking (intermediate).
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!
I enjoy traveling, nature walks, and soaking up a new culture. Please share the posts if you find them helpful!