Expressing Condolence: Say This, Not That

Condolence Candle - what to sayAmong online newsletters I subscribe to is one from The Emily Post Institute. Appropriate grammar and appropriate etiquette go hand in hand; both offer how-to guidelines that boost our confidence and help us make a positive impression in personal and business settings.

I share this about how to express condolences from the October 20, 2015, issue:

No one likes to talk about it, but death and grieving are a very real part of our lives that we all deal with at some point. People handle death and grieving in different ways, and it can be confusing to know what to say, how to reach out and what not to say. Here are some pointers to help you:

Don’t say: “He’s in a better place.”
Instead say: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Don’t say: “Call me if there’s anything I can do.”
Instead say: “May I bring you dinner tomorrow night?”

Don’t say: “It’s God’s will.”
Instead say: “She was an extraordinary person.”

Don’t say: “I know how you feel.”
Instead say: “Please know that I am thinking of you.”

Don’t say: “Now you’re the man of the house.”
Instead say: “Your father was an example for us all.”

If you’re unsure of what to say, be sincere and simple. At the very base of all our condolences is the sentiment of being sorry that someone is dealing with loss. You can always simply say: “I’m so sorry for your loss, and my thoughts are with you.”

For more tips on choosing the right words for your message, try the Looking For search feature in the right column of this page.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)