When was the last time you burst into tears? Or were bursting with pride? Tim Bowen investigates this versatile verb.

A recent classical music concert in London was disrupted by a political protest. When the orchestra started playing again, the audience burst into wild applause (started applauding loudly). One can also burst into tears or song, as in ‘He keeps bursting into tears for no apparent reason’ or ‘The whole restaurant suddenly burst into song’.

If something bursts into flames, it suddenly starts burning with large flames, as in ‘The helicopter burst into flames after hitting a power line’.

If something suddenly starts working or become active or alive, it can be said to burst into life, as in ‘He flipped a switch and banks of electronic equipment burst into life’. This phrase can also be used in a sporting context to describe a crowd, as in ‘After the goal, the crowd suddenly burst into life’.

If you burst in, you enter a place suddenly, as in ‘There was a noise outside, then a man burst in’. If someone bursts onto a particular scene, they become noticeable or successful quickly and suddenly, as in ‘She first burst onto the racing scene in 1998’. 

The verb burst out can mean exclaim and is generally used in a literary context, as in ‘“I hate you!” Julia suddenly burst out’. One can also burst out laughing or crying with the same meaning as burst into laughter or tears, but with burst out the present participle is used rather than a noun.

Burst with is normally used in the present or past continuous to mean having a lot of a particular quality, as in ‘The dancers were bursting with energy and joy’ and ‘Her parents were bursting with pride at the degree ceremony’.