In this sentence:

He gave a cynical expression on his face.

I'm confused if 'give' is the appropriate word in this case. Is it?

  • 5
    Have, not give. Give requires an indirect object. – John Lawler Nov 15 '15 at 15:25
  • @Lawler, can 'make' or 'pull' be used in the sentence? – arpon Nov 15 '15 at 15:37
  • 2
    @arpon: He gave me a cynical look. He made a cynical expression. He had a cynical expression on his face. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 15 '15 at 15:39
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    No, you can give a look, because it's directional; but you can't give an expression. Make an expression can be volitional, in which case it means to exaggerate some expression, the same as pull a face (the metaphor is "pull a mask over one's face"). If the "face" is sufficiently stylized and directed, you can "pull a face" at someone, like make. But you can't pull an expression, either. – John Lawler Nov 15 '15 at 17:16
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    @JohnLawler: No. Give does not require an indirect object. He gave a chuckle. She gave a speech. The lion gave a roar. They gave a round of applause. – user21820 Nov 25 '15 at 15:30

The answer is that you cannot give something "on your face" (to anyone). It is a logical issue. If something is on your face, it cannot be given. The most you can do is to give something from on your face, or perhaps make a face to someone. As TRomano said:

He gave me a cynical look. ["look" can refer to a particular way of looking at a person.]

He had a cynical look on his face. ["look" can also refer to an expression on the face.]

He made a cynical expression. [Like "looks", "expressions" can be made.]

He had a cynical expression on his face. ["had" refers to the point in time that it is on his face.]

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