How to Use Emoticons in Texts and Instant Messages

Make your messages more meaningful with emoticons

Hand using emoticon keyboard
Dimitri Otis/ Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Emoticons and emojis add contextual nuance to texts and instant messages. For example, if you're trying to be sarcastic in a message, including a winking emoticon lets the reader know that you're not being serious.

Information in this article applies broadly to text messaging services for all devices and platforms.

What Are Emoticons?

Emoticons are combinations of symbols, letters, and characters meant to convey specific emotions. A portmanteau of "emotion" and "icon," emoticons can provide context and clarity to messages that might otherwise be interpreted differently. 

Traditional Emoticons vs. Graphical Emojis

Emoticons were originally all text-based, but many instant messaging clients, social media platforms, and SMS messaging apps today include a menu of graphical emoticons known as emojis that you can add to messages. Emojis allow users to express a broader range of emotions.

How to Use Emoticons

To create emoticons, locate the required symbols on your keyboard and type them in the appropriate order. Some messaging apps will automatically turn emoticons you type into animated emojis.

If the message recipient's device does not support emojis, then they will see a blank space or a random jumble of characters in its place.

List of Western-Style Emoticons

Here's a list of the most commonly used emoticons and their meanings:

Emoticons Meaning
:) Happy
:( Sad
;) Wink
:/ Doubtful/unsure
:P Sticking out tongue
:O Shocked
:| Expressionless
:S Confused
<3 Heart/love
</3 Broken-hearted
8) Glasses
:} Mustache
xD Laughing hard
xP Disgusted
X( Pouting/frustrated
:*( Crying
:3 Cute/cat-like
:-* Kiss on the cheek
>:O Angry/screaming
:X Lips sealed
0:) Angelic
@)-v-- Rose
O--- Lollipop

List of Asian-Style Emoticons

Here's an alternate list of emoticons more commonly used in some parts of the world:

Emoticons Meaning
(^_^) Happy
(‘_^) Wink
(>_<) Painful
(<_>) Sad
(-_-) Sigh
(._.) Depressed
(-_-) zzz Sleeping
(-.o) Black eye
(#_#) Beaten-up
(x_x) Dead
(@_@) Crazy/hypnotized
(o_O) Confused
($_$) Cha-ching!
($_$) Star-struck
(O-O) Glasses
<(‘o’<) Ghost
d^_^b Listening to music
t(o_o)t Flipping the bird

To use the ^ symbol (known as the circumflex accent, or caret) on a standard computer keyboard, press Shift + 6.