con·​do·​lence kən-ˈdō-lən(t)s How to pronounce condolence (audio)
 also  ˈkän-də-
: sympathy with another in sorrow
: an expression of sympathy
usually plural
The bereaved family received many condolences.

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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.

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

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 Gallatin County Sheriff Dan Springer expressed his condolences to Rott’s family, who are located in South Dakota. Julia Moore, Peoplemag, 28 Nov. 2023 Cohen gave his condolences for the 39 Thai nationals killed on Oct. 7 in the Hamas attack and expressed hope that the remaining Thai hostages, estimated to number 15, would be released soon and in good health. Shoshanna Solomon, WSJ, 28 Nov. 2023 Murad expressed his condolences to the victims and their families. NBC News, 27 Nov. 2023 President Biden offered his condolences as federal law enforcement partners continued to investigate the shooting alongside Burlington police. Alexandra E. Petri, Los Angeles Times, 27 Nov. 2023 Other teams in Major League Baseball were also online sharing condolences and kind words on Tuesday, including Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals. Abby Hamblin, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 Nov. 2023 Our condolences to those families and our deepest respect and thanks for all of those who serve or have served in the military. CBS News, 12 Nov. 2023 Family calls for justice after man struck and killed by police car, buried without notice During the mayor's State of the City address, Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade -- who is no relation to Dexter Wade -- offered his condolences to Wade's family. Deena Zaru, ABC News, 20 Nov. 2023 Tributes to the former first lady and condolences to the Carter family poured in Sunday. Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times, 19 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'condolence.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


see condole

First Known Use

1603, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of condolence was in 1603

Dictionary Entries Near condolence

Cite this Entry

“Condolence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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