con·​do·​lence | \ kən-ˈdō-lən(t)s How to pronounce condolence (audio) also ˈkän-də- \

Definition of condolence

1 : sympathy with another in sorrow
2 : an expression of sympathy usually pluralThe bereaved family received many condolences.

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Choose the Right Synonym for condolence

pity, compassion, commiseration, condolence, sympathy mean the act or capacity for sharing the painful feelings of another. pity implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress. felt pity for the captives compassion implies pity coupled with an urgent desire to aid or to spare. treats the homeless with great compassion commiseration suggests pity expressed outwardly in exclamations, tears, or words of comfort. murmurs of commiseration filled the loser's headquarters condolence applies chiefly to formal expression of grief to one who has suffered loss. expressed their condolences to the widow sympathy often suggests a tender concern but can also imply a power to enter into another's emotional experience of any sort. went to my best friend for sympathy in sympathy with her desire to locate her natural parents

Condolence and Condolences

When used in the singular, condolence generally refers to sympathetic sorrow, and particularly sorrow with regard to the loss of life. It is used when speaking indirectly of that shared sorrow:

After the 1985 Bradford stadium fire, during the Prime Minister's visit of condolence to the city, . . .
— William Leith, The Independent (London), 25 Nov. 1990

and often in a modifying position:

Still, although I felt for him, I barely knew the guy. Would it be inappropriate to pay a condolence call? Did they want their privacy?
— Alan Gelb, The New York Times Magazine, 7 Jan. 1990

Last week, people around the world showed their support for Russia. They held candlelight vigils, sent condolence letters and signed memory books.
— Jeremy Caplan, TIME for Kids, 17 Sept. 2004

The plural condolences, on the other hand, is often used specifically for an expression of sympathy, and most often appears in the construction my condolences, which is used to communicate sympathy. While condolences is often used to share sorrow over a death:

The prime minister of the day attended Hardy's funeral. . . . King George V and the Prince of Wales telegraphed their condolences.
— Terry Eagleton, Harper’s, November 2007

it can also be used of anything perceived of as a misfortune:

The odds of getting Apert syndrome are about the same as getting killed by lightning: 1 in 100,000. Indeed, for his family, Nate's birth was a lightning bolt: it came from the blue and was a shock to the system. Instead of getting congratulatory notes, the couple got condolences.
Bella English, Boston Globe, 1 Oct. 2000

Within mere hours of Ted Lambros's rejection for tenure at Harvard, communications began to pour in from every important university center of the United States. Some were simply to express condolences.
— Erich Segal, The Class, 1985

Condolences is sometimes used humorously, whereas condolence is not:

Tell someone you're from Buffalo, and you get the Look: If pity and condescension got it on, this is the baby they'd make. Something in the eyes that offers condolences for everything from playing childhood games in a frozen tundropolis to four straight Super Bowl losses.
— Nick Bakay, ESPN, 28 June 1999

Condolences is the more common form of the word, and should be used when expressing your sympathy at someone’s loss.

Examples of condolence in a Sentence

The governor issued a statement of condolence to the victims' families. We wish to express our sincere condolences to your family.
Recent Examples on the Web The House held a brief condolence ceremony for Reese. CBS News, "Pennsylvania legislature blocks swearing-in of Democratic incumbent," 5 Jan. 2021 The commissioner of baseball was sending a condolence statement on the death of another Hall of Famer in what has become a year unyielding in tragedy and sorrow. Evan Grant, Dallas News, "Evan Grant: What it’s like to lose my childhood favorite player, Phil Niekro," 28 Dec. 2020 Erdogan didn’t offer any message of condolence or support following the killing, according to the statement. Ania Nussbaum,, "France Recalls Ambassador to Ankara After Erdogan Comment," 24 Oct. 2020 For Sevil Dungill in Chicago, his family's battle – and to an extent his city's – with the virus began with thin-crust pizza and embraces of condolence from an old family friend. USA Today, "How the South and Southwest became the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic," 10 Dec. 2020 His page and those of Shimi’s many friends and fellow artists soon filled with notes of condolence and stories about her, as well as shock at her sudden death. Deborah Martin,, "San Antonio theater artist S.T. Shimi, known for work with Jump-Start Performance Co. and in burlesque, dies at 49," 3 Dec. 2020 The impact John Schlarman left on the college football world was such that UK coach Mark Stoops was inundated with messages of condolence Thursday from coaches who never even met the Wildcats’ offensive line coach. Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal, "Against Vanderbilt, Kentucky aims to honor John Schlarman with resilient performance," 13 Nov. 2020 The United States has also maintained its practice of paying condolence money to Afghan families harmed during American military operations. Najim Rahim, New York Times, "How an Afghan Political Crisis Derailed Payments to War Victims," 27 Oct. 2020 Brazilians wrote condolence messages on social media; some even posted fan art. David Biller, Star Tribune, "In Brazil, a parrot puppeteer's death stirs the nation," 2 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'condolence.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of condolence

1603, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for condolence

see condole

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Time Traveler for condolence

Time Traveler

The first known use of condolence was in 1603

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Statistics for condolence

Last Updated

14 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Condolence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for condolence


How to pronounce condolence (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of condolence

: a feeling or expression of sympathy and sadness especially when someone is suffering because of the death of a family member, a friend, etc.

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