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tear/tug/pull at/on (one's)/the heartstrings
To elicit strong feelings of sympathy or fondness. I don't know why, but that piece of music always tears at my heartstrings. That documentary really pulls on the heartstrings—you'll want to adopt all of those kids after watching it.
play on the/(one's) heartstrings
To elicit a very strong emotional reaction in one, especially a feeling of sympathy, pity, or compassion. I don't know why, but that piece of music always plays on my heartstrings. That documentary really plays on the heartstrings—you'll want to adopt all of those kids after watching it. Can't anyone else see that all her tears and wailing are just an act to play on people's heartstrings.
play on someone's heartstrings
Fig. to attempt to get sympathy from someone. She is crying so she can play on your heartstrings and try to get you to take her home.
tug at the heartstringsor
tug at your heartstrings
COMMON If someone or something tugs at the heartstrings or tugs at your heartstrings, they cause you to feel pity or sadness. Miss Cookson knows exactly how to tug at readers' heartstrings. Note: You can use verbs such as pull and pluck instead of tug. Unlike many charity campaigns, it doesn't pull at the heartstrings. Note: You can also omit the word at. McLachlan tugs the heartstrings with a succession of ballads. Note: Heartstrings is used in many other structures and expressions with similar meanings. This is not a movie that aims for the heartstrings. Note: In medieval times, it was believed that `heartstrings' were tendons which supported the heart.