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  • Writer's pictureDavid Nagai

How to Express Sympathy

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

When we want to express sympathy toward someone, we should be very careful to use the right words that express the right nuance. This is true in everyday situations, but especially important with serious situations like death and major emotions.

Here are some examples…

When someone expresses a small problem such as having a sore throat, losing something small, or being late to a meeting, you can say:

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“How unfortunate.”

* But, don’t use any of these phrases if the situation is serious because it sounds too casual.

When someone experiences a big problem, you can say:

“I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your job.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t get the promotion.”

“You must feel so anxious about the cancer test results.”

“It sounds like your boss is really horrible!”

“Wow, what a terrible situation.”

“I wish I could do something to help you in your situation.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“I hope your situation improves soon.”

When someone experiences the death of a family member or friend, we must be the most sensitive. I recommend saying the following:

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” (Using the word “so” adds important emphasis if you want to show sensitive sympathy. In a card or text message, you can write: “My deepest condolences to you and your family. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

If you are relatively close to the person or really value the relationship, you can even say: “Is there anything I can do for you at this difficult time? Anything at all?”

If you feel overwhelmed with all the different examples in different situations, remember that you can always just say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” This phrase can work in almost any situation.

And finally, don't forget that intonation, facial expression, and body language are extremely important and can communicate just as much, or more than words.

Good luck expressing sympathy in English!


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