a sight for sore eyes


a sight for sore eyes


  • a way of saying that you are happy to see someone
  • a way of expressing that you think someone is good looking
  • something that you are happy to look at
  • the idiom also means something that is unpleasant to look at (opposite meaning in British version)

Example Sentences

  1. I can’t believe that I haven’t seen you in a year! You are a sight for sore eyes.
  2. There is Peter with a tray of food, it is a sight for sore eyes! I am starving!
  3. The bottles of water, at the end of the long race, was a sight for sore eyes.
  4. June, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes! I have missed you.
  5. That pretty girl is a sight for sore eyes.
  6. That monstrosity of a building is a sight for sore eyes, it blocks our whole view of the beach. (Opposite meaning)
  7. That ugly dress that you are wearing is a sight for sore eyes, please don’t wear it again. (Opposite meaning)


The origin of the phrase can be traced to the 1700s, in recent years the meaning if the phrase has changed from negative (you make my eyes hurt) to positive (you make my sore eyes feel better.)

Even though the phrase can be traced back to Jonathan Swift’s book, A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation widely known only as Polite Conversation, published in 1738. The line read:

“The sight of you is good for sore eyes.”

The newer version was used by William Hazlitt in New Monthly Magazine in 1826.  It read:

“Garrick’s name as proposed on condition he should act in tragedy and comedy… What a sight for sore eyes that would be!”

It might be confused with an “eyesore” which is something that is hideous to look at. The broken tree was becoming an eyesore.

Many books and websites supply only the positive version as it seems as if the negative or opposite meaning is starting to be used less and less.

Share your opinions2 Opinions

If “a sight for sore eyes” is used negatively, that is done in error, not as an alternative meaning. That would do nothing but cause confusion. “A sight for sore eyes” was never intended to have a negative meaning. You rightly say that people confuse it with “eyesore,” which is negative.

‒ Claire July 22, 2023

I live in Britain and have never known it to be used negatively.

‒ Debra Jefferson June 22, 2021

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