French Words & Phrases to Express Sympathy & Sadness

But today I want to give you, at least, the French words you can use in these situations where the words might fail.

Our lives isn’t all about café, croissants and macarons, sometimes real life catches up and sad events happen to people we know. Then you think: “How should I react? What I can do to help?” or “How can I express my sympathy?”

I don’t have all the answers…But today I want to give you the French words & phrases and some ways on how you can comfort someone in the events of grief or sorrow, illness, and sad departures or goodbyes.

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Et toi ?

When was the last time words failed you in a sad situation?
What did you do instead?
What did you say?

Bonne journée et à tout de suite dans les commentaires,


Join the conversation!

  • Bonjour Géraldine-
    I am writing this on Sunday, Nov. 16 and it is eery that you posted this last week and now we are feeling such grief. Thank you and may peace prevail.

  • le 15 novembre 2015, Frederick, Md., USA
    Chère Geraldine,
    Merci pour avoir écrit de tes nouvelles. J’ai été tellement préoccupé de toi! Je suis désolée des événements à Paris. Je remercie Dieu que tu vas bien, et ta famille aussi. J’ai un profond sentiment de fureur pour les lâches qui ont fait cette chose terrible à Paris, et un profond sentiment de mon coeur qui brise pour toi et ta ville. Paris ne mérite pas d’être traités ainsi.
    La première fois que je suis allée à Paris (en 1974!), j’ai adoré sa beauté et sa grâce. Je continue de chérir mes souvenirs de cette visite, de voir la tour Eiffel pendant la nuit, d’aller vers le haut de l’Arc de Triomphe, et de la vue du Sacré Coeur. Je me souviens à marcher dans les rues à proximité de l’endroit où cette tragédie s’est produit.
    C’est comme ce qui est arrivé à New York le 11 septembre 2001, puisque je dois également chérir mes souvenirs que j’ai des tours du World Trade Center. Nous ne pouvons pas laisser ces térroristes détruire (ou essayez de détruire) les choses dont ils ne comprennent rien: comme l’amour, la beauté, et la bonté. On doit continuer avec la vie, n’est-ce pas? Je pense que c’est bon que tu as décidé de continuer comme prévu. Sache-toi que tu es dans mes prières.
    Même si nous ne sommes jamais nous rencontrées en personne, j’ai regardé toutes tes vidéos (depuis le début de ta programme), et je trouve que je te connaisse, au moins un peu. Tu es courageuse et tu es forte.
    Reste-toi en sécurité. Amitiés et bisous,
    p.s. S’il te plait, pardon moi si j’ai fait des fautes en français.

  • I am an american and I am here. Je suis là. The comment above about not having to know someone well to respond to their humanity is true. From the time that I was a child random strangers have shared their struggles and sorrows with me. It happens no matter where I go. It has happened in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Tahiti, Germany, Spain and France. All humans need a compassionate listener. Thank you for adding such an important topic to your lessons!

  • Je viens d’entendre des nouvelles des attaques à Paris et ça me brise le coeur. Il n’y a pas de mots.
    Prières du Canada.

  • I live in the south since 10 years but i am a parisian, and trust me , there is a very big gap between these two ways of lifes, with a lot of things and habits sometimes very strange for me 😉
    Life told me that friendship is something built day after day, week after week , year after year. A friendly person will not become necessarely a true friend .
    A french quote says “aimer c’est connaître”, i guess you can understand, loving people not differents of you but with some codes a bit different is juste a questio of time and bienveillance (in english it is “goodwill” but i am not sure that the exact sense of this word in french is in this translation) .
    Have a nice week end Dana, as sunny as ours

  • I don’t know if this is a general cultural difference or just my personal experience, but I’ve found that when talking about sad or emotional topics with French people (either my own experience or theirs), they tend to shut down the conversation more quickly than Americans and move on to other topics. They may say something polite, but they don’t allow it to become more personal or heart-felt (by my American standards). This has even been true when I’m speaking about my own loss — I interpreted it as them somehow thinking that it would be embarrassing or uncomfortable for me to become emotional in front of them, so they moved away from the topic to spare me the discomfort, but I actually wasn’t uncomfortable. This is just one more way in which I’ve found it difficult to develop emotional intimacy with French people. I think it is well-intended, but I experienced it as them not really wanting to know me or not really wanting me to see them authentically. Lesson learned: just say the polite thing, don’t expect real emotional sharing. It’s kind of sad.

    • Apologie my awful english A friend of mine , french, living in Us, was worrying to me about what she interpreted as a “false” affliction with its codes :the “AW…” always prononced by the same tone, the head to one side etc.
      Probably Those people you met at this hard moment were not close to you, they could be unconfortable, but be sure , If they have been close to you, you could have find a real and warm support, with no codes but sincere.

      • Hi Marie, thank you for your reply. I know that many French people I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences in the US — feeling as though Americans pretend to care more than they really do about people they are not extremely close to. I can see why they feel this way, although I think that it is sometimes a bit of a misunderstanding. There are certainly some Americans who do this in a fake way. However, it can be very genuine even when you are not close. It is possible to genuinely care about another person’s humanity even if you do not know them very well personally — or be interested in getting to know them. I also wonder, how are you supposed to become close to people if they do not want to share more personally? This has been my biggest struggle in France. I’m not talking about the fake caring — I’m talking about allowing oneself to be authentic and open to being known, rather than guarded. It feels like a catch-22 — you must be close to share openly, but you can only become close by sharing openly. I’m sure that there are misunderstandings in both directions, but it’s hard to know how to overcome that.

        • I think it is complicate to generalize. French people are so differents as american people are. Some are fake, some are sincere, some are discret , some are demontrative…
          And Dana, If you come in the south west of France , in the Lot, I would be so please to welcome you , for
          an apéritif
          Or a meal
          Or a few days in my guests house
          and we will try to change your mind about us 🙂
          Have a nice week end

          • Marie, I agree — it is difficult to generalize. I have met a few people from the south, and it is true, they are very friendly! 🙂 In my original post, I think I was just reacting to feeling that it was odd, after I experienced a loss in my family, to have some people ask how I was doing but then not really seem to want me to answer sincerely. But it’s true, people don’t know how to respond to death anywhere. It’s uncomfortable, and we feel awkward, so maybe that’s just what it was… And add different cultures to the mix, and it becomes easy to misunderstand people’s reactions.

  • Helpful and useful post as always. It would be nice to see all of your posts attached together in one long video! So many useful things to learn on here!

  • Thank you for this really helpful video. It can be really difficult when something sad happens, and even more difficult when you don’t know the words because of a language barrier. I hope I won’t have to use these words, but if I do, I’ll be able to be genuine and not fumble my words.

  • Merci Geraldine. Il y a quelques annees, la mere d’un ami en France est decedee, soudainement. C’etait difficile a savoir le bon chose a dire. J’ai dit “je suis desolee” simplement. Ma Francais n’etait pas tres bon mais je crois que c’est mieux a dire deux mots qu’aucune du tout.

  • Salut Géraldine
    Ces infos sont très utiles, comme d’habitude – merci bien. L’année dernière mon voisin m’a dit que sa mère est morte, mais en fait il a dit quelquechose comme “Maman… c’est fini…”. Je l’ai compris signifier qu’elle est décédée et moi, j’ai lui dit “Je suis désolée”. Quand on étudiant le français à l’école, on n’apprenait pas comment exprimer des condoleances aux nos voisins et nos amies, mais je crois qu’il est très important.

    C’est intéressant qu’on dit “Je suis là” en français, pas, “Je suis ici”. Je l’ai entendu souvent récemment mais je n’ai appris pas quand utiliser “là” et quand utiliser “ici”. Par exemple, si mon amie m’appelle puis je réponse “Je suis là”, oui ?
    A la prochaine

  • Je n’ai comprenne pas:
    “un pot de départ ” – Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire “un pot” dans ce cas?

  • Salut, Géraldine,

    Très utiles conseils, comme d’habitude! On est toujours très reconnaissant pour ton aide avec notre faible français…

    Ce que j’ai entendu de l’usage de “désolé(e)” semble être en général applicable à des situations dans lesquelles on doit s’excuser ou demander pardon, même pour la plus petite lacune. J’avais donc formé l’impression que ce n’était pas apte à exprimer un plus profond regret, mais je comprends après avoir vu ta dernière video que l’application de ce mot eat beuacoup plus large que je ne m’imaginais.

    J’avoue que je ne connais pas beaucouop de français de très proche, en partie parce que j’habite aux Ee-Uu et je n’ai passé que quelques jours en France. Depuis les temps de mes études de la langue (il y a maintenant très longtemps) toutes les rencontres que j’ai eu avec des français on été occasionelles st de courte durée, souvent en qualité de touriste qui a perdu son chemin ou qui commande de la nourriture dans un resto. Par conséquent je n’ai jamais eu la nécécssité d’exprimer mes condoléances ou mes voeux pour un bon rétablissment.

    Mais, grâce à toi, mon guide en toute chose au sujet de la France et des Français, je commence à me préparer pour les nouvelles expériences que pourra porter l’avenir! Merci encore!

    Salut, Jim

  • I just tell the relatives “Death is just natures way of telling you to slow down” then tell them their loved one will soon be eating the Piss en Lit by les Rascines!
    and if anyone suffers from Halitosis – I comfort them by saying “Halitosis is better than no breath at all!”

  • Si vous voulez envoyer ou apporter des fleurs, c’est de coutume de choisir les oeillets. J’ai appris cela quand j’ai été invitée à un dîner chez des amis et je les ai apportés en cadeau par erreur! Tandis qu’aux Etats-Unis les oeillets sont souvent offerts en cadeau ordinaire….

  • This is an interesting choice of topic Géraldine, and it’s brave of you really to touch upon it. I wonder if there is perhaps a slight difference of approach to something sad in France when compared to the UK ..?? Actually, I don’t know the answer to that, but without doubt people anywhere can find it a little difficult to talk their way around an unhappy event that has occurred. In theory it’s probably better to at least attempt to say something to a person who is faced with a sadness in their life, but then maybe in certain circumstances it’s simply not possible. Perhaps France has a clearer code regarding what one should say or do in a given situation than we do here in England .. again, je ne sais pas.
    And so, given my apparent uncertainty around this subject, I’ll sign out here with just a dash of what the Brits do (sometimes anyway) to smooth a way through the difficulty ..
    humour ..!
    My all-time favourite book for cheering myself up when the world around me has gone a bit grey is Spike Milligan’s Puckoon. It was written years ago but remains an absolute gem of a tale, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it. One of the best bits is what ends up happening at Dan Doonan’s funeral. Irreverent without doubt, but absolutely hilarious too. You are right Géraldine that life does have it’s sad moments, but as long as we remember to smile as well we can all keep going. Thank you so much for your pointers around some of life’s trickier moments ..

    Merci et salut 🙂

  • Cher Geraldine…. I do not know why this helps but it always did. At times like this, my Grand Mum always told me. ” The more we cry, the less we need to pee “

  • Someone I know fairly well, but not a “friend” mentioned to me that they could not keep a RDV because of having to have more tests for their cancer. Later they told me that the cancer had
    returned. What should I have said? I was totally lost for words. This person is obviously in a state of decline. I need to know what to say when he says that he feels terrible, can hardly breathe etc Hope you can help – I feel really inadequate.

  • I’ve also said/heard ‘je suis navré(e)’ to express sorrow for someone who has had a loss… too old-fashioned or still used today?

  • Moi j’écrirais «Remets-toi vite» ou «Remettez-vous vite» – Get well soon. Se remettre – to get better. Is this a good thing to write in a card, Geraldine?

  • Géraldine, je suis en France à ce moment et un chat de mon amie est en train de mourir. Ses animaux sont sa vie, très important. Quoi faire? I saw on the grave of a neighbor’s dog ( it’s in the country) that they had planted some iris bulbs. When this sweet cat dies would it be appropriate for me to buy some bulbs for my friend to mark the grave, and if so what kind of bulbs would be appropriate? Thank you so much. It’s difficult to know what to do even when it concerns little pets.

  • Geraldine
    What is the normal protocol when walling past the coffin leaving a funeral? I bowed by head, others kissed their hands and touched the lid, others kissed the lid. Does it vary by how well you knew the person, or matter as long as you show respect ? It was funeral of a neighbour I’d known for a short while.


  • As much as I like the music, I am glad that you now turn it off while you are speaking. It makes it easier to hear everything.

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