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How to Appropriately React to Someone's Bad News

Show empathy towards others by responding with these phrases.

It can be an awkward and difficult situation when someone tells you their personal bad news and you feel like you should respond. It’s important to be prepared for these situations by knowing a few expressions that can show sympathy and compassion for a person who is sharing their bad news with you.

When the News Isn’t So Serious

If someone tells you a minor piece of bad news, such as “I can’t go on the school trip” or “I have a cold”, you can respond with one of the expressions below:

  • That’s too bad

  • That’s rough (pronounced "ruff")

  • That must be disappointing/frustrating (if the bad news caused disappointment or frustration)

When the News Is More Serious

If someone tells you something that seems more negative to their life, you can use the expression: “I’m (really/very/so) sorry to hear that” to respond because it sounds more meaningful. For example, if someone tells you that they applied to a good university, but their application was rejected, you can express more sympathy by saying: “I’m really sorry to hear that.”

  • I’m (very/really/so) sorry to hear that.

When Someone Dies

If someone tells you news about their pet, friend, or family member dying, it’s important to say: “I’m so sorry to hear that” and not something like “that’s too bad” or “you must be sad”. If someone tells you that their grandmother died and you respond by saying “that’s too bad”, it sounds like you don’t realize how bad the situation is for that person. On the other hand, if you say: “I’m (very/really/so) sorry to hear that”, it’s more appropriate.

There are also some expressions that are specifically used for when someone dies, which are given below:

  • I’m very sorry for your loss.

  • My thoughts are with you.

  • Please accept my condolences.


Imagine that someone says the phrases below to tell you their bad news. Use the expressions above to respond.

  1. I can’t come to your party tomorrow.

  2. The airline company lost my luggage.

  3. My girlfriend and I broke up.

  4. I lost my job.

  5. My Uncle died last night.

Possible Answers

  1. “That’s too bad. I wish you could come.”

  2. “That must be frustrating.”

  3. “I’m very sorry to hear that.”

  4. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

  5. “I’m very sorry for your loss. Please accept my condolences.”


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