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What Does It Mean to Have a "Change of Heart"?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 23, 2024
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The phrase "change of heart" is one of hundreds of idiomatic expressions in the English language. The phrase does not imply a physical heart transplant but rather a conversion of opinion or sentiment. To have a change of heart is to change one's mindset; that is, to revise one's thinking. It means to change an opinion regarding something once believed to be true and entails making a decision based on that change. Usually, but not always, the change of heart is a transition from a negative to a positive opinion.

English romantic literature abounds with examples of characters' struggles with angst and eventual changes of the heart. The classic book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen epitomizes the idiom as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, once so hostile toward each other, discover compassion and love. Tragedies often depict characters who, for their stubbornness and hard, unchanging hearts, experience pain or catastrophe.

Scholars estimate the existence of more than 3,500 idioms in the English language. An idiom is a phrase whose meaning is not apparent from a literal interpretation of the words but instead implies a figurative meaning. Meanings of idioms can often confuse or frustrate people who are attempting to learn the complexities of the English language. English is a compilation of many other languages, including German and Dutch. Add to this all the nuances from Latin and French and phrases from other languages, and English idioms can seem quite mysterious.

Other idioms relating to the heart include such phrases as "a man after my own heart," "an affair of the heart," "break your heart" and "bleeding-heart liberal." All of these sayings have nothing to do with the body's internal organ but with sentiments or deep thoughts and opinions. More than simply changing one's mind, a change of heart implies a more personal and emotional change, similar to repentance or remorse. A change of mind might be based on preference such as choosing vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate. Changing one's heart, on the other hand, involves one's innermost sentiments and thoughts.

The origin of the idiom "change of heart" is unknown. It is believed to have first appeared in print in the early 1800s. The idea of a changing and repentant heart is a common theme throughout the Bible, such as a passage in 1 Samuel when God is said to have changed King Saul's heart. In the New Testament, hearers of the gospel were encouraged to repent or have a change of heart.

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Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Aug 01, 2013

@fBoyle-- I agree with everything you said.

I also want to add that there is an implication in this idiom that the change that has taken place is a very drastic one. It's basically when someone's thoughts and feelings make a complete turn to the opposite.

So if you hate someone and have a change of heart, you love them now. Or if you decided not to go somewhere and have a change of heart, now you definitely want to go.

By fBoyle — On Jul 31, 2013

@fify-- I see your point, but a "change of heart" also means the same thing as changing one's mind. This idiom doesn't just mean thoughts, it also means emotions. I think of "change of heart" as a change in conviction.

For example, I might have made up my mind about something but after some time, I might realize that I was wrong. I probably didn't know enough about that issue to have made a decision at that time. So I can have a change of heart about it.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice or have you seen the movie? If you see the film, you will see what I'm talking about. Like the article said, it really is a great example. In that story, when Elizabeth has a change of heart, both her thinking and her emotions have changed. So the idiom implies both.

By fify — On Jul 31, 2013

I find this idiom confusing because to me, the heart is where emotions are. It makes more sense to say "to have a change of mind," doesn't it?

If we're talking about a change in our thinking, then we should say that our mind has changed, not our heart.

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