How to React to Messages on Your iPhone With All the Emoji

Don't limit yourself to just six reactions.

Zachary McAuliffe Staff writer
Zach began writing for CNET in November, 2021 after writing for a broadcast news station in his hometown, Cincinnati, for five years. You can usually find him reading and drinking coffee or watching a TV series with his wife and their dog.
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Zachary McAuliffe
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9 of the new emoji, arranged in a grid on a pink background: peapod, hair pick, goose, hand, smiley, gray heart, maracas, donkey, wifi signal

There are over 3,000 emoji you can choose from.

Apple introduced iMessage reactions, called Tapback, with iOS 10 in 2016, and the feature lets you react to a message in one of six ways: a heart, thumbs up or down, a "Haha," exclamation points, or a question mark. But some people might be confused or irritated when they see someone react to their message with one of these.

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If you react to one of your crush's messages with a thumbs-up. You might simply be saying, "Sounds good!," but they might read the reaction as, "This conversation is over. Goodbye." Congratulations, you played yourself, and now your crush thinks you hate them. But using emoji lets you quickly tell the other person what you really mean in a more direct way, and it gives you the whole emoji spectrum to do so.

Here's how to use an emoji to react to specific messages on your iPhone.

Read more: How to Decipher Each Emoji

How to react with emoji

1. In the appropriate iMessage conversation, tap the blank iMessage bar across the bottom of your screen like you're going to type something.
2. Tap the emoji keyboard icon -- the smiley icon -- in the bottom left corner of your screen.
3. Long press on the emoji you want to use.
4. Drag the emoji to the message and release it. 

Now, instead of giving something a thumbs-up or an exclamation point reaction, you can give the raised hands emoji, the eyes emoji or even both. You can use multiple emoji to react to messages, pictures and gifs sent in conversations between you and another person, or in group messages. 

You can also use this feature to combine emoji. To do this, you have to layer emoji on top of a sticker in iMessage. Here's how to create your own emoji combos.

Layer emoji over stickers for fun combos

The mountain emoji with a person skiing down one side

Just a skier going down a mountain.

Screenshot by Zach McAuliffe/CNET

1. In the appropriate iMessage conversation, tap the plus sign (+) next to the blank iMessage bar across the bottom of your screen.
2. Tap Stickers.
3. Tap and send your chosen sticker.
4. Tap the blank iMessage bar again, then follow the above steps for using emoji reactions.

You can add as many emoji as you want to each sticker, so you could have fun and make small scenes if you wanted to. However, you can't save these combined emoji, so you'll have to recreate them each time. Hopefully Apple will let people save them in the future.

For more Apple news, here are the features in iOS 17.5 and iOS 17.4. You can also check out our iOS 17 cheat sheet and what we want to see in iOS 18 at WWDC 2024.

Watch this: Apple's iPad Pro Event Was a Flop