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In English we can say "sorry" as an abbreviation for "I am sorry to hear that"/"I feel sorry for you" to express sympathy. Is there a Chinese word or phrase that bears the same meaning?

I know one can say 对不起 when the conversation goes into a "sorryful" topic, but it's a real apology for misspeaking.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

遗憾/惋惜/难过 all can be used in this context, but IMHO none of them is the Chinese counterpart of "sorry".

Using the example in this reference,

I am sorry to hear that your brother passed away.

听到你兄弟去世的消息,我很难过。

When it's in Chinese, it seems to imply the speaker knows the person who died and personally feels sad for it.

People also say “我*为你*感到难过” (I feel sad for you), but it's not really common in daily life. You'll probably hear it in televisions and read it in books, but I don't recall a single instance people around me actually say that. It doesn't mean people don't express pity over somebody else's demise, but they say other things like “我能体会你的感受” (I can imaging how bad you feel) etc.

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Please advise the situation you are facing. Generally, when we want to express sympathy we will say "我很同情您" or "很同情您的遭遇". When we say "对不起", it always means we made a mistake.

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Sorry has many meanings in English while 对不起 doesn't do that in Chinese. Most of the case, you can use 不好意思 - it'd be more easy-going and it's a little like "sorry" in English sometimes.

So for different context you need to say different words. Some examples for you:

  1. 不好意思 - It's very general and can fit many situations. I recommend use it when you're not very sure.

    不好意思,我不知道你们已经离婚了。I'm sorry that I didn't know about your divorce.

  2. 抱歉 - feel bad when you mention something that your listener don't want to hear

    抱歉,我刚知道你父亲去世的消息。I'm sorry I just knew that you father passed away.

  3. 难过 - feel sorrow about something (stronger emotional than the two above)

    听到这个消息,我很难过。I'm sorry to hear that.

  4. 伤心 - feel rather bad about the loss, especially someone loses his a family member. But it's a little formal than 难过. You can use it in a letter or e-mail

    得知你要离开这个城市,我真的很伤心 It's so sad to realize that you're leaving this city.

  5. 遗憾 - it's a little formal and official, I do not suggest use this in a daily conversation. Chinese people seldom say it.

    听说你不打算加入我们了,我感到很遗憾 It's a pity to know that you're never gonna join us.

  6. 惋惜 - the same like 遗憾, it's very formal and seldom used in daily conversations.

    关键时候没能坚持住,真令人惋惜 What a pity that you did not hold on at this crucial moment.

  7. 悲恸 - it's much more formal and official, for example when some "big brother" in the gov is dead the media will use this word to report

    毛泽东逝世后,举国上下沉浸在极其地悲恸之中无法自拔。 Every single person in this country has broken his heart after knowing Chairman Mao has passed away.

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The word "sorry" contains several meanings. It can mean a feeling of sadness or regret depending on the context. If the context is that of something bad happening to someone and you are saying "I am sorry to hear that" or "I feel sorry for you", then I would consider this as a feeling of sadness. So, in this case, I would translate it as:

  • 知道这事我很难过
  • 我为你感到难过
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听到这个消息我感到很遗憾

Tīng dào zhège xiāoxi wǒ gǎndào hěn yíhàn

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+1 Just to add that 遗憾 expresses both sadness and regret, and is a profound word used where one expresses condolence over the demise of someone. –  Question Overflow Sep 28 '12 at 7:38

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