How do you express sympathy in conversational English? Look at the examples, read the explanations and try the exercises below.
Examples and explanations
If someone tells you some bad news, you can show sympathy in many different ways.
You can use fixed expressions like Oh, no! or Oh, dear! Example:
Ann: I crashed my car.
Bob: Oh, no!
Ann: I failed the exam.
Bob: Oh, dear! I’m sorry to hear that.
Or you can use the phrases What a shame!, What a pity! Examples:
Ann: I didn’t get the job.
Bob: Oh, what a pity!
Ann: I can’t go to the party.
Bob: Oh, that’s a shame.
Alternatively, you can say Poor you! (= I feel sorry for you.) Examples:
Ann: I’ve got a report to write.
Bob: Oh, poor you!
Adjectives and nouns
A common way to show sympathy is to use That’s… or How… followed by an adjective such as awful, terrible, dreadful or sad:
Ann: My boyfriend left me.
Bob: Oh, how sad! / Oh, no! That’s awful! / Oh, how dreadful (for you)!
Or use What (a)... followed by a noun or an adjective + noun:
What a disappointment for you!
What bad luck!
What a terrible thing to happen!
Imagining the situation
To imagine how the other person may have felt, you can use must have + past participle:
Oh, dear! It must have been terrible for you.
You must have felt very disappointed.
That must have been a real shock.
Or you can use I’m sure... or I can imagine...:
I can imagine how difficult it was for you.
I can just imagine how you felt.
I’m sure it was very difficult.
If you try to make people forget a problem or feel better about it, you cheer them up. Some common expressions are:
Never mind (= It’s not important.)
Ann: My plants have died.
Bob: Never mind. We’ll get more.
Ann: I haven’t got any money.
Bob: Don’t worry. I’ve got plenty.
Ann: I feel so lonely
Bob: Cheer up! Let’s go out and have a good time.
When someone dies, we offer our condolences (sein Beileid aussprechen). You may use a formal expression to do this (spoken or written):
I’d like to offer you my (sincere) condolences.
My condolences on the death of your grandfather.
But people often express condolences more personally and informally:
I’m so sorry to hear your sad news.
It must be a difficult time for you.
Our thoughts are with you.
Sympathize, sympathy, sympathetic
If you understand how people feel, you sympathize with them, you show sympathy or you are being sympathetic. A sympathetic person can be someone who attracts your liking, but also someone who understands how others feel:
She’s a very sympathetic person. You can go to her with all your problems. (= She will listen and understand.)
Now, test your knowledge with the exercises below.