On Collins Dictionary, the definition of "disheartening" is, "If something is disheartening, it makes you feel disappointed and less confident or less hopeful." I wonder if people also can be called "heartening" or "disheartening". Can we for example say, "My boss is a heartening/disheartening person"? I couldn't find any example sentences or definitions on dictionaries that answer this question of mine.


While it would be grammatically correct, and I think people would generally understand what was meant, using "(dis)heartening" in this way does not sound natural. I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. "(dis)heartening" is generally applied to thoughts, impressions, or discoveries of new facts, not to concrete objects like people or things.
  2. This is partly because "(dis)heartening" also does not usually describe a persistent state, but rather the event of transitioning from one emotional state to another. It's not a quality that something holds for a long period of time, just for a particular moment or moments.

So these adjectives are not used to describe things. They actually describe the effect that new information or new perceptions had on the observer, at the particular time that they were observed. If I say something was "disheartening" to me, it doesn't mean that it's anything inherent in its nature, or that it always has that effect, it just means that it had that emotional effect on me at that particular moment (when I became aware of it).

Some alternative words with similar feelings which actually are used to describe a persistent property of something, and so could be applied to people or things, might be:

  • uplifting / encouraging / hopeful
  • depressing / discouraging / dreary

(Note: "encouraging"/"discouraging" are often used in the same way as "heartening"/"disheartening" to describe an effect on the observer, but unlike "(dis)heartening" they are also sometimes used to describe a persistent quality of something, to say that it consistently has that effect. I'm not really sure why these words are commonly used this way while "(dis)heartening" aren't.. I guess it's just one of those quirks of the language.)

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  • How common is the word heartening exactly in speech? I don't remember when I last heard that word. The verb yes, but the adjective not so much (unlike disheartening). – user3395 Mar 19 at 1:49
  • @userr2684291 I would say that the use of "heartening" is pretty uncommon, yes. "disheartening" is definitely used more often, I think, but even that isn't used that frequently. – Foogod Mar 19 at 13:55

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