Sorry to Hear That - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your work colleague just tell you that they had to put down their pet yesterday? If you want to show them you understand what they are going through, you can use the phrase "sorry to hear that."

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the origin and meaning of this idiom.

Sorry to Hear that Meaning

"Sorry to hear that" is a somewhat inauthentic response to someone telling you something involving a negative aspect of their life. They could be dealing with a death in the family, damage to their car, or a bad result at work. There are plenty of situations that call for the use of this idiom.

However, many people view the expression as inauthentic, and if you say it to them, they are likely to think that you don't really care about anything they are telling you. Many people who use the expression don't know how to handle taking bad news from others.

While they may be empathetic to the person's situation, they don't know what to say, so they end up blurting out this cliche. However, it rarely comes across as a genuine response, and some people might even find the response offensive.

"Sorry to hear that" will suit all types of situations involving negative news from other people. You can use the phrase as a formality in social situations, and you can say it to people you know or with strangers. However, the phrase doesn't really produce any real assistance to the person telling you their problem.

The phrase can have a dual connotation, and you can use it in a genuine manner or sarcastically.

Sorry to Hear that Example Usage

Astrid: "My dog passed away last night, she had cancer, and we had to put her down."

Carly: "I'm sorry to hear that; I hope you feel better."


Jack: "I crashed my car last night. I'm so bummed; I only bought it last week."

Simon: "I'm sorry to hear that."


Elliot: "I lost my job today, the company is downsizing, and they made my position redundant."

Sarah: "I'm sorry to hear that."

Sorry to Hear that Origin

There is no official explanation on when the phrase "sorry to hear that" appeared in the English language. The origin of the word "sorry" comes from the Old English language and the word "Sarig." Sarig means "full of sorrow" or distress.

People started using "sorry" as an apology in 1834. However, the word would appear in the phrase "sorry about that," popularized during the 1960s by the American game show "Get Smart." "Sorry about that" is the closest rendition of the phrase in its modern use of "sorry to hear that."

Phrases Similar to Sorry to Hear that

  • That's too bad.
  • Sorry for your loss.
  • That's too bad.

Phrases Opposite to Sorry to Hear that

  • I don't care.
  • So what?

What is the Correct Saying?

  • I'm sorry to hear that.
  • Sorry to hear that.

Ways People May Sorry to Hear that Incorrectly

Some people may use the phrase incorrectly. Typically, you'll say the phrase directly to someone, not when someone else other than the subject breaks the news to you.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Sorry to Hear that

"Sorry to hear that" is another way of saying "my condolences." However, it's typically an inauthentic response to someone's bad news. Most people use the phrase because they don't know how to voice their empathy for the other person's situation. You could also use the term to tell someone that you don't care about their situation or what they are going through in their life.

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