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I'm struggling to understand how the words 'cry' and 'crying' work as nouns since they can either mean a shout or an act of weeping. Is the meaning supposed to be understood from the context?

My concern started when I wanted to say that a 'cry' was preventing someone from saying something. Can I say, for instance:

His face puckered as he was trying to contain a cry/crying.

or

He was struggling against a cry/crying.

Here are a few questions:

Are the sentences correct?

Is it clear that this 'cry/crying' is not a shout?

If they are incorrect, what noun should I use to refer to the act of crying (the sad one with tears)?

Are the nouns 'cry' and 'crying' interchangeable in these examples?

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First of all, As a noun meaning "the act of shedding tears," cry is almost always used with the verb 'have.' You might hear

My son John lost his favorite toy and so he had a good cry.
I found my long-lost brother and we had a long cry together.

Secondly, at least in the US, it is much more common to hear people say that "XYZ is crying" rather than "XYZ is having a cry." If someone is shedding tears, even in the UK they say "he is crying," because 'a cry' describes the entire process of beginning to shed tears, shedding them, and then stopping.

Yes, as a noun 'cry' can mean both the act of shedding tears and a loud shout. However, the second meaning is quite old-fashioned, and, when it is used, is often in the form "cry out" or "cry aloud," so it's not so hard to spot. It should almost always be clear from context, and one is much more common than the other.

As to your question about someone who cannot speak because they are crying, keep in mind that crying specifically means shedding tears, not everything else that happens when you cry (e.g. sobbing, shaking, one's voice breaking up). In your first example,

His face puckered as he was trying to contain a cry/crying.

the simplest way to say what he is doing is "trying not to cry." After that, you might say he is "holding back tears" or "trying to contain tears." If he is "trying to contain a cry" then he is trying not to shout. "trying to contain a crying" is not correct since crying is a participle.

For your second example,

He was struggling against a cry/crying.

again, the most natural way to express it is as "struggling not to cry." Other options might be "struggling to hold back tears" or, to use an idiom "struggling to keep it together."

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