How do I use the word nostalgia correctly?

For example, say I saw an old doll of mine and it reminded me of when I was a kid; what would be the correct expression to describe that?

  • I got nostalgia from the doll
  • I got nostalgic from the doll
  • the doll made me feel nostalgic
  • etc...
  • Have you tried some dictionaries? Merriam-Webster has under nostalgia "A wave of nostalgia swept over me when I saw my childhood home." "He was filled with nostalgia for his college days". For nostalgic, Collins has "Many people were nostalgic for the good old days"
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 16:00
  • 3
    You don't 'get' nostalgia like catching cold! You could say "The sight of the doll gave me a feeling of nostalgia", for example. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 16:30
  • Both your first two sentences use got in a "slangy" informal way, and the first one isn't particularly idiomatic anyway, because we'd normally expect it to be followed by an explicitly adverbial term. Same as we say He got homesick after a few days, not He got homesickness... Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 18:32

3 Answers 3


nostalgia https://www.dictionary.com/browse/nostalgia

a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days

Nostalgia is a general name for the memories of an event that you wish to relive. The doll causes you to recall those events. The doll made you nostalgic.


The word nostalgia is Greek and derived from two words: nostos (νοστος), which means a return, ΄and algos (algos), meaning pain. It is the kind of pain that the ancient Greek hero, Odysseus, felt, when he was detained for many years on the island of Ogygia by the nymph Calypsio, who hd fallen in love with him, until Zeus finally instructed her to let him go. So the word nostalgia, together with its cognate adjective, nostalgic, conveys a longing for something lost, whether in time or space.

Because it a matter of human feelings or emotions, sharp definitions are difficult and may differ between dictionaries. Thus The Cambridge (online) English Dictionary offers:

a feeling of pleasure and slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past.

an affectionate feeling you have for the past, especially for a particularly happy time.

But this time, it offers synonyms that show there is more to the word than that.

reminiscence, longing, regret, pining...

Here, it becomes obvious that in there is more to it than the actual definition suggests. Moreover, depending on the context, 'nostalgia' can be a pleasant or an unpleasant sensation, and that it can prompt either sympathy or criticism from others.

The Collins English Dictionary, like the CED, offers separate British and US English definitions.

In British English:

  1. a yearning for the return of past circumstances, events, etc
  2. the evocation of this emotion, as in a book, film, etc
  3. longing for home or family; homesickness

In US English

  1. a longing to go back to one's home, home town, or homeland; homesickness 2. a longing for something far away or long ago or for former happy circumstances

Moreover, both the noun and the adjective can be used to refer to feelings and attitudes that seek to resurrect or return to circumstances or ideas of the past. In literature in either British or US usage it can be either derogatory or positive.

  • But how does native speaker express the feeling of nostalgia they experience when seeing an old beloved object? Or for example, smelling a dish that reminds them of home? You've given a detailed account of the meaning and historical background of nostalgia but left out the essential request.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 10:16
  • @Mari-LouA:- What you describe is a feeling aroused by seeing or reading something. Whether it is a happy or sad feeling of a mixed 'bitter-sweet' sensation will depend on the circumstance. If my life partner is upstairs as I come across a letter they wrote years ago when we were engaged, the sense of nostalgia would be pleasant. If they had died, then it would be more bitter-sweet (originally an expression of the Poetess, Sappho of Lesbos, who describes love as a sweet-bitter {glukupikron - γλυκυπικρον - creature}).
    – Tuffy
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 18:04

There are several ways of describing the feeling of nostalgia that someone experiences

I felt a wave of nostalgia when I saw my granddaughter playing with an old rag doll that belonged to her mother.

I felt a pang of nostalgia when I found an old doll of mine.

When I found my father's handwritten letters I was overcome with nostalgia

He felt nostalgic when he revisited his old hometown

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