How to Sympathize in English

So you're probably still pretty new to the English language. You took the time to learn and improve your English skills and you're ready to start having conversations with other English-speakers. You can say hello and how are you and ask for directions to the bank, but how do you respond to someone who tells you about some bad news? Sympathy and Empathy are tricky skills to master in your native language, so how can you show that you are sympathetic when responding to someone's misery in English?

First, let's define the difference between sympathy and empathySympathy is when you show compassion for someone, but you may not fully understand how they are feeling. Empathy goes one step further, allowing you to be compassionate because you understand the emotions the person is going through; you've probably been through something similar. But what is the appropriate way to respond? Take a look at some possibile responses below:

 

Formal response:

If you are speaking to someone you don't know that well, you'll probably want to use the more formal phrases.

Friend: I fell and twisted my ankle at the gym yesterday. I won't be able to make it to Marcella's engagement party.

You can respond:

  • I'm sorry to hear about that.
  • I totally understand. I hope it heals quickly
  • That's a shame.
  • What a pity. I'm so sorry that happened.

 

Sympathy in English - bears


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Informal response

If something bad happens to a close friend or family member, you can be a bit more casual about your responses while still conveying that you care. 

Friend: I fell and twisted my ankle at the gym yesterday. I won't be able to make it to Marcella's engagement party.

You can respond:

  • That really sucks.
  • That' terrible, I'm sorry.
  • Oh no. Get better soon.

 

Sympathy in English - dasies

 

Long-term problems

If someone is dealing with a problem for an extended period of time, you can express that you hope it will change for the better.

Friend: I fell and twisted my ankle at the gym a few weeks ago. The doctor said it isn't going to heal for a few months.

You can respond:

  • I hope things will get better soon.
  • I'm here for you if you need anything.
  • Let me know what I can do to help.

 

How do you console a friend who is sad or hurting? Let us know in the comment section below. Feel free to share any other examples with us on Twitter or Facebook.

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