Why Do We Say “Sorry” When Someone Dies?

While on Facebook last night I saw a shared Everdays post announcing a death of a friend’s grandmother. The post had over 240 likes/reactions and 135 comments. As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed how many people left “I’m sorry for your loss.” It got me thinking, why do we apologize for someone dying? It isn’t our fault, so why say sorry? “I’m sorry” has become the cliche phrase, and it might not be the best thing we can say to someone grieving.

So, why do say sorry when someone dies?


Like everyone who has a question, I turned to Google. “Why do we say sorry when someone dies?” A majority of results explained that there are two different meanings to saying “I’m Sorry” depending on the situation.

  1. The “I’m sorry” intended as an apology,
  2. The “I’m sorry” used to show empathy 

The further I researched the more I discovered that the word sorry actually comes from two different words. It’s a mix of the Old English word sārig ‘pained, distressed,’ from the base of the noun sore. With the shortening of the root vowel, it has given sorry an apparent connection with the unrelated sorrow.

Diving deeper into the sorrow root of sorry, sorrow is by definition, a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others. If sorry also comes from sorrow, it only makes sense then that we use the word sorry for expressing our condolences to mourners.

If the idea of saying sorry sounds less appealing, or reminds you of apologizing for something you have no control over, there’s hope. There are alternate phrases you can say to express empathy and sympathy towards someone in mourning.

Suggested alternative phrases to use instead of “I’m sorry” include:

  • You are in my thoughts/ I’m thinking of you
  • This must be so hard for you
  • He/she was a wonderful person
  • I’m here for you if you need anything
  • Wishing you peace as you grieve this loss
  • My condolences on the passing of ____
  • My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family
  • May his/her memory be a blessing
  • Our hearts go out to you in your time of sorrow

What is your preferred method of expressing your condolences? Let us know in the comments below.

Everdays has been designed to help family members contact the community about a loved one’s passing. It’s a simple space to share details on events, funeral arrangements, send personal condolences and connect with those who matter.