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I never know what to say/write in Chinese when a friend tells me that one of their relatives or friends has passed away. I'm aware of the terms of politeness for referring to the death itself:

But I don't know what to say to the person who has just told me that someone they know just died. It is hard enough in English to know what to say, but I might say something like "Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that." or "I'm sorry for your loss." What can I say in Chinese that will be comforting, culturally appropriate, and won't sound trite?

I'd like to know for both the situation of a very close friend/relative dying and also for a more distant friend/relative dying. I assume one might say different things depending on how close they were.

Recent example of a more distant relative passing away:

  • Friend: "我们去【某地方】参加我四舅的葬礼去了,明天晚上十点左右才回来。谅!" (We had originally planned to meet the next day.)
  • Me: ?
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If you are notified a distant relative of someone has just passed away, you don't need to say much, just a simple "這樣啊" (Oh, I see) and/or "那真不幸" (that's really unfortunate) to acknowledge you have just learned the bad news.

If you are notified a close relative of someone has just passed away, you should add an condolences, and the most common phrase for offering condolences is 節哀順變 or 節哀

  • "這樣啊... 那真不幸,希望你能節哀順變" (Oh, I see... That's really unfortunate, hope you can restrain your grief and accept the change)

  • "這樣啊... 那真不幸,請節哀 (Oh, I see... That's really unfortunate, please restrain your grief)

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Besides what Tang Ho has provided. In a real practice (informal circumstances), if one's close friend/relative passed away, you could say these sentences: "真的啊!/真的吗! 什么时候的事情啊? 那现在怎么样了? 太不幸了!有什么我可以帮忙的吗?" If you feel your friend really sad, you could say: "你也别太难过了! 人死不能复生。" You could apply those sentences according to the situations. These are all colloquial sentences.

  • "人死不能复生" - Are you sure this wouldn't be offensive? – Suragch Sep 16 '17 at 8:00
  • "人死不能复生". It's often used. You would hear it from TV shows sometimes. It's not offensive. – dan Sep 16 '17 at 9:44

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