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1. To violently pull, rip, or attack someone or something. Billy tore at the presents, flinging wrapping paper behind him in a wild frenzy. The pack of wolves were tearing at the hiker when I found him.
2. To elicit a strong emotional response, especially sympathy, sadness, or guilt. Usually followed by "(one's) heart," "heart strings," or "conscience." It tore at my conscience to fire him, but I knew it had to be done. The film will tear at the heart strings of even the most cynical moviegoer.
tear at someone or something
to rip at someone or something; to try to tear someone or something up. The badger tore at me, but I dodged it and ran away fast. Timmy tore at the package, struggling to get the paper off.
1. Pull at or attack violently, as in Jane eagerly tore at the wrapping paper, or The dog tore at the meat. [Mid-1800s]
2. Distress, as in Their plight tore at his heart.
1. To pull at or attack something violently: The dog tore at the meat.
2. To distress someone or something greatly: Their sad story tore at my heart. When I told a lie, it tore at my conscience.