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

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 About 20 of the 80 parishioners drew near to her to express their condolences after the priest gave the blessing Saturday. Dallas News, "What is mourning like during the coronavirus outbreak? Funeral in Mesquite offers a glimpse," 18 Mar. 2020 We are saddened to share this news and expresses its condolences to her family. NBC News, "Sixth death reported in California," 15 Mar. 2020 Pakistan's President Afif Alvi expressed his condolences to the family of the pilot, Noman Akram. USA TODAY, "Pakistani fighter pilot dies during aerobatic practice for National Day celebrations," 11 Mar. 2020 Assistant Fire Chief Andrea Glass said members of the public wishing to express their condolences to Arriaga's family may mail cards or letters to the department's administration office at 1400 E. Apache Blvd. in Tempe. James Carr, azcentral, "Community mourns Tempe firefighter who died of work-related cancer," 11 Mar. 2020 The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, expressed his condolences on Tuesday to the families of five victims who died in Rio de Janeiro, according to the State Secretariat for Social Development and Human Rights. Ivana Kottasová, CNN, "Brazil lashed by heavy rains, leaving at least 32 dead," 5 Mar. 2020 The Division expresses our deepest condolences to the Prather and McCaw families and friends. Lucas Aulbach, The Courier-Journal, "Louisville Fire, U of L and others are 'reeling' after car crash kills 4 near St. Louis," 15 Feb. 2020 Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in a tweet expressed his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives or were injured, and said the focus was on keeping people safe. Feliz Solomon, WSJ, "Thai Soldier Kills at Least 20 at Military Facility, Shopping Mall," 9 Feb. 2020 Music superstars like Cardi B, Drake, ASAP Rocky, Demi Lovato and many more expressed their condolences on social media over the sudden loss of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash, TMZ reports. Mitchell Peters, Billboard, "Cardi B, Drake, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez & More React to Kobe Bryant's Death," 26 Jan. 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

24 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Condolence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Apr. 2020.

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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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