How to Express Condolences

Posted by: Tara Benwell
When an English friend’s loved one dies, take a moment to express your sympathy.

condolencesWhen a person dies it is difficult to know what to say to the bereaved. If English is your second language, it is even harder to comfort a grieving person. We sometimes use a present tense verb when we should use the past. Don’t feel bad if you do this. Even native English speakers find this awkward in the early hours and days after a person’s passing.

It is important to acknowledge the loss in one form or another. Here are a few expressions you can use to express your care and concern in English when someone passes away.

Expressing Condolences in English
It is a good idea to name the person who died. If you know this person, describe something you loved about him or her. Share a fond memory if you have one. If you don’t know the person, express sadness that you never got to meet him or her or acknowledge the importance of this person to your friend.

  • I am so sorry to hear about your loss.
  • I was heartbroken by this sad news.
  • I will never forget when he/she… (share a memory using the past tense verb)
  • You were such a dedicated friend/mother/sister to ______________ (name).

  • He/She will be sadly missed. (Add a detail that describes this person’s best quality. For example: He was the best listener. OR He was always there when I needed help with the kids.)
  • I’m sorry, but I am at a loss for words. (If you can’t think of anything else to say or write.)
  • If you need anything, please ask. (Then offer something specific, such as help with the kids or a home cooked meal or a coffee date.)
  • When you are feeling up to it, let’s have coffee together.
  • I’m here for you if you need anything.
  • Thanks for taking the time to let me know about _________ (name of deceased). (Write or say if you received a special call or email notification about this news.)

Expressing Condolences in Writing

When you are looking for a card in a stationery shop look for “sympathy” cards. You can use many of the same expressions in a sympathy note or card.

  • Please accept my/our sincere condolences.
  • I would like to express my sincere condolences on the death of __________. (name) He/She was __________. (describe this person in a word or two)
  • I’m sorry I could not convey my condolences in person. (If you are far away from a friend. You can use this in a phone call too.)

Words to go with a sympathy gift or donation
Please accept these flowers from our family.
I have made a donation to _____________ (charity or organization) in ________________ (name’s) honour.
As per your request, we have made a donation to _________ in lieu of flowers.

Closing your Condolence note or card

  • Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
  • Wishing you peace as you grieve this loss.

Expressing Condolences via Social Media Networks
It is okay to express your condolences in a comment if the announcement has been made in a status update or blog. Take a moment to send a private note as well.

Common Errors

  • spelling of “peace” (not “piece”)
  • capitalization of “God” (not “god”)
  • spelling of “condolences”
  • spelling of “prayers”

bereaved (noun): person who is grieving the loss of a loved one (adjective= “bereaved”)
grieve (verb): to feel and express sadness after the loss of a loved one (noun=”grief”)
acknowledge (verb): to express recognition or realization
deceased (noun): the person who is no longer alive(adjective=”deceased”)
pass away (verb): to die (noun=”passing”: I’m sorry to hear of his passing.)
dedicated (adjective): showing extreme care and commitment to a person or thing
to feel up to something(verb): to be feeling well enough to leave the home and do something with another person
donation (noun): a gift of money or items to a research organization or charity that helps others
in lieu of flowers: instead of buying flowers (use only if the bereaved request donations instead of flowers)

Discuss: Should you say “Time will heal” to a person who has just lost a loved one? We all know this is true, but do we want to hear this phrase when the loss and sadness is so fresh?

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | December 2010
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.