What Does “TFW” Mean, and How Do You Use It?

Internet-based jargon can be complicated for outside users, and particularly for those who don’t text or use social media on a regular basis. The good news is that there is usually an easy way to understand what some internet acronyms actually mean. The bad news is that their context can be confusing, and the initialism itself often requires an explanation of internet culture. Such is the case for TFW.

What does TFW mean?

TFW is short for “That Feeling When.” It can be used in either a positive or negative context and is generally used before describing some sort of emotional experience. It can be seen as a signal – or even a warning – that the subsequent text will be about an experience that someone had.

Alternative’s for TFW include “That face when,” which largely has the same meaning. However, generally speaking, TFW is understood to mean “That feeling when,” and any alternative meaning would require clarification.

Some have noted that the more grammatically correct way of using TFW would be saying, “I love/hate that feeling when….”

In general, TFW is a reflection of the self-referential nature of the internet. Indeed, the entire expression is redundant. Most of the time, it is not necessary, and the sentence that it proceeds can likely stand on its own. However, it has become something of a marker, either for self-deprecation expressing joy about a particular sensation.

How long has TFW been used?

One theory for the spread of TFW holds that it began after a once-popular meme that features a badly drawn man hugging another, with the caption, “I know that feel, bro.” The “that feel” portion of the sentence morphed into “That feeling when,” and the expression took off from there. This was around 2010. However, Google Trends demonstrates that the phrase was barely researched until April 2012, when people began to look up its meanings. Searches for TFW spiked in August 2016.

How would you use TFW?

As noted above, TFW is a precursor for an experience, either bad or good, relatable, or completely random. For example:

  • “tfw you wake up and realize that your girlfriend isn’t in bed…and won’t be back in the bed…ever.”
  • “tfw your boyfriend cooks you breakfast in bed!”

It usually is used more in social media, rather than a text, as the “tfw” isn’t really needed in a text. Furthermore, it is usually used only in lower case. Like most internet initialisms, it can be easily paired with any number of emoji. These emoji – like the “TFW” itself – can be used to heighten the positive or negative context of the tweet. TFW is also often used with a GIF.