How to Respond to Bad News in English

Jun 22, 2016 | English Conversation

When we receive bad news, we often feel at a loss for words. We don’t know what to say. Even native speakers can feel at a loss for words. Some situations are very difficult or painful.

But as human beings, it’s natural that we want to show that we care, that we’re sorry to hear the bad news.

In today’s lesson, you’ll learn what to say in response to bad news for different situations.

  • Your friend has to cancel dinner.
  • It’s going to rain on your birthday.
  • Your colleague lost her job.
  • A friend is getting a divorce.
  • Your friend’s mother passed away.

Some situations are disappointing, others are shocking and full of grief.

With this lesson, you’ll learn exactly how to respond to bad news in English. You’ll also learn what you can say to show that you care, that you want to help, and that you’re sorry.

The right way to respond to bad news in English.

Lesson by Annemarie

Informal Ways to Respond to Bad News in English

These responses are best for close friends, family members and colleagues when the news is bad or disappointing but not terrible.

For example:

  • canceling dinner plans
  • working overtime on the weekend
  • losing your cell phone
  • spilling ketchup on your new shirt
  • getting a cold


Common Responses:

  • Oh no, that stinks!
  • What a bummer.
  • Oh, I’m sorry.
  • That’s awful.
  • Sorry, that’s rough/awful/disappointing.
  • Hope you feel better. (Used when someone isn’t feeling well or is getting sick.)

Formal Ways to Respond to Bad News in English

These responses are best for work colleagues or acquaintances or when the news is truly bad.

For example:

  • Losing a job
  • Losing a pet
  • Getting into a car accident
  • Losing a big client


Common Expressions:

  • I’m so sorry to hear that!
  • What awful news! I’m sorry.
  • I’m sorry to hear such terrible news.
  • I’m very sorry – that must be awful/frustrating/scary/difficult.
  • If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.
  • I really don’t know what to say, I can’t believe it. I’m very sorry.

“As humans, it’s natural that we want to show that we care, that we’re sorry to hear the bad news. Use this lesson to learn how to do that in English.”

Ways to Respond to Very Sad or Shocking News in English

When friends, colleagues, family members share news of grief such as the death of someone or a divorce, these expressions are the most appropriate.

Common Expressions:

  • I’m terribly sorry to hear that.
  • How terrible/sad/awful – I’m so sorry.
  • I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?
  • I’m very sorry about your loss. (Used to express sympathy for news of a death.)
  • Please accept my sincerest condolences/sympathies. (Used to express sympathy for news of a death.)
  • If you need anything, I’m here for you.
  • My heart hurts for you. I’m very sorry.

After you’ve watched the video, I’d love to hear from you! Review my two questions and share your responses to these questions in the comments section below.

  • How do you usually help friends or loved ones in time of need?
  • Are there common expressions you use to show sympathy?

As always, you can also ask questions or leave your feedback in the comments section below. Thank you for joining me for your Confident English Wednesday. I’ll see you next week! – Annemarie

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