Sorry to Hear That: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
May 17, 2023

The saying "sorry to hear that" typically expresses empathy or sympathy when someone else has experienced something negative. This phrase is commonly used in conversations to show understanding and care for the other person's situation.

In short:

"Sorry to hear that" means expressing sympathy or empathy for someone else's unfortunate situation or news.

What Does "Sorry to Hear That" Mean?

The phrase "sorry to hear that" shows that you feel sympathy or empathy when someone shares bad news or an unpleasant experience. It's a polite and caring way to respond when someone tells you about a problem or difficulty they're facing. You can use the phrase in a variety of situations, both personal and professional.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning include:

  • Expresses sympathy and understanding
  • It can be used in response to both personal and professional news
  • Used to show care and concern for someone else's situation.

Where Does "Sorry to Hear That" Come From?

The origin of “sorry” comes from the Old English word “sarig," which means “full of sorrow” or distress. It is thought to have been derived from the Proto-Germanic word “sargaz,” which also means “full of sorrow.” The word “sarig” was used in Old English to describe a wide range of emotions, including sadness, grief, and regret. It could also be used to describe physical pain or suffering—the earliest examples of the phrase "sorry to hear that" in print come from the 1800s.

Historical Example

"I was very sorry to hear that you were sick; but it rejoiced me to hear that you were recovering."

- The Guardian, Or Youth's Religious Instructor, 1819

10 Examples of "Sorry to Hear That" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how to use the phrase in sentences:

  • I'm really sorry to hear that your car got repoed.
  • What a shame about your accident! I'm sorry to hear that.
  • Did you lose your job? I'm so sorry to hear that.
  •  I'm sorry to hear that you're not feeling well - it must be the weather.
  • Your grandmother passed away? I'm really sorry to hear that.
  • I'm sorry to hear that they rejected your proposal. I'm sure you'll be back on track in no time.
  • I'm sorry to hear that your team lost the match. Better luck next time!
  • I'm sorry to hear that, but you dodged a bullet by leaving him.
  • Is your dog sick? I'm sorry to hear that. I hope he gets better soon.
  • I'm really sorry to hear that you are feeling blue. You should come with me to the party.

Examples of "Sorry to Hear That" in Pop Culture

The phrase frequently appears in films, books, and TV shows to express sympathy or empathy.

Some examples include:

  • “Sorry to hear that. You'll need all the support you can get,” is a quote from the 2015 book, "The Mulligan."
  • In the adventure movie The Fall (2006), Roy Walker tells Alexandria, "I'm sorry to hear that." This line is Roy's response upon learning that Alexandria's house was tragically burned down.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Sorry to Hear That"

There are other ways to express sympathy or empathy that convey a similar sentiment to "sorry to hear that."

Some of these include:

  • That's unfortunate
  • I'm sorry for your loss
  • That's too bad
  • My condolences

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Sorry to Hear That"

  • What does the phrase mean?

It means expressing sympathy or empathy for someone else's unfortunate news or situation. It's a way to show that you care about what they're going through.

  • How can one use the phrase in a sentence?

For example, you could say, "I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get the job. I know you really wanted it."

  • Is the phrase appropriate for professional settings?

Yes, this phrase can be used in professional settings to show empathy or sympathy for someone's situation or difficulties.

  • Is the idiom positive or negative?

The phrase itself is neutral, but it's typically used in response to negative news or situations, expressing empathy or sympathy.

  • Is "sorry to hear that" a good response for minor setbacks?

For minor setbacks, inconveniences or complaints, "sorry to hear that" can come across as somewhat insincere. It is best reserved for more serious or impactful unfortunate news. For smaller issues, a response like "that's too bad" or "what a bummer" may be more appropriate.

  • Is it okay to say "Sorry to hear that" via text, email, or phone?

Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to convey "sorry to hear that" through written, electronic communication like text, email, or phone as well as in person. The sentiment behind the phrase is what matters most, not the medium used to express it.

  • What is the best way to use this phrase?

The best way to use this phrase is to genuinely express sympathy or empathy for someone's situation, in a caring and understanding manner.

  • Is it okay to use the phrase to express sympathy?

Yes, the phrase is specifically used to express sympathy or empathy for someone's unfortunate news or situation.

  • What's the difference between "Sorry to hear that" and "My condolences"?

"Sorry to hear that" is a general expression of sympathy or empathy, while "My condolences" is specifically used when expressing sympathy for someone's loss, such as the death of a loved one.

  • Does "sorry to hear that" require a response?

While not required, it is polite to acknowledge the expression of sympathy. A simple response like "Thank you, I appreciate your kindness" is appropriate. You can also provide a brief update on the situation if you feel comfortable doing so.

Final Thoughts About "Sorry to Hear That"

"Sorry to hear that" is a polite way to express sympathy for their difficult situation or circumstances. It is appropriate to say when someone shares news about a loss, setback, illness, or other unfortunate event.

Key aspects of the phrase:

  • Communicates empathy or sympathy
  • Appropriate in a variety of contexts, both personal and professional
  • Emphasizes understanding and compassion

Remember, using this phrase is a simple yet effective way to show that you care about the feelings and experiences of others. It's a reflection of our shared humanity and the universal experiences of hardship and disappointment.

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