According to a dictionary, purse your lips to form your lips into a small tight round shape, for example to show that you do not approve of something. Some people also say "pout your lips" in this situation.

So, I guess your lips stick out a bit when you purse them. See this picture

enter image description here

However, how to say when someone presses his lips in a way that the lips tend to go into the mouth, rather than sticking out. See this picture

enter image description here

I don't think the man is biting his lips.

-"bite one's lips, purse one's lips, stick out, lick one's lips" are common English expressions, but none of these expresses the picture of the man above.

He is not biting or pursing or sticking out or licking his lips. Actually, he is pressing his lips in a way that the lips moving into the mouth.

Do we say "he pressed his lips inward" in this situation?

  • The first image is the more typical referent of purse one's lips, but there's no special term in English differentiating the second image. The relevant full OED definition for purse is To pucker or contract (the lips, brow, etc.), as if by tightening the strings of a purse. Personally, I'd use pursed for both images. I might also use puckered for the first image, but I wouldn't use that for the second. You might say he sucked his lips back or similar if you wanted to be more precise. Commented Jan 10 at 13:14
  • 1
    No, pout your lips is not correct in English: He or she is pouting. No lips. That creep is not pressing his lips "inward". He just has very thin lips so when he presses them together, it might seem that way and you can't see his upper lip. Anyway, inward is not used like that in English. You need to include links as those pictures might be copyrighted. I have told you many times.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 10 at 18:37
  • A comment has reminded me that "quoted material" need not always be textual. The rules apply to text and images. New rules: english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5193/…
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:00
  • @Lambie, this "models pouting their lips for the camera" is from Oxford Dictionary
    – Tom
    Commented Jan 11 at 5:59
  • REPEAT: Cite your sources for copyrighted material.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 11 at 14:31

2 Answers 2


A google image search for "pursed lips" has many pictures that look like the second picture, and that's what I'd use to describe that expression. The connotation of "pursed lips" usually (to me, at least) indicates stress or disapproval.

"Bite one's tongue" might also apply here. It isn't about physically using teeth to bite one's tongue. It's about being tempted to say something, but deciding not to. In the picture, if the man is deciding not to say something impolite, then "biting his tongue" is a good way to describe this expression.

I might also call this a "strained expression".


The most common treatment for this kind of "non-smile" is simply to describe it visually, without any set phrase. I did this just a few days ago, describing someone who had been having fun but then started getting tired and upset: "His smile became very straight and tight." The example you gave is rather extreme, in which someone is squeezing his lips together so hard that they bulge top-to-bottom instead of side-to-side. But a less extreme example, like this one:

enter image description here

... might be described as a "thin-lipped smile," or perhaps a "tight-lipped" one. This could be seen as a different expression altogether, though, since your example is not really any version of a smile. There's a dictionary entry for "thin-lipped", though it notes that it could also describe someone whose lips are naturally thin (most of the Google results for the phrase are ads for plastic surgery). And note, the picture above came from a Reddit page asking what phrase best described it, and getting many other suggestions. That page also offered a picture of the character Jim from the American tv show The Office, who makes a slightly different version of this expression often, but perhaps something with a meaning more along the lines of the emoji referred to as a "neutral face", with a straight line for a mouth.

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