“I’m sorry.” . . . “Not your fault.”

January 4th, 2018

A language peeve I’ve run into with friends from time to time . . .

Friend: [describes death in the family or other hard situation]

Me: “I’m so sorry.”

Friend: “It’s not your fault.”

Please, no, don’t do that. It sends the conversation in the wrong direction because it misses the point.

“I’m sorry” expresses “I have sorrow.” Yes, often, we use this to convey “I have sorrow for what I did to you,” and it’s a very useful—almost magical—phrase when used as an apology. But it can also convey “I have sorrow for your loss” or “I have sorrow over your unfortunate circumstances.”

Clearly, if someone says “I’m sorry” about a situation they have no part in—the death of your loved one or whatever—they are not conveying sorrow for something they did to you, but sorrow over your situation.

A much better reply is “Thank you.” That might more fluidly lead to their saying “Is there anything I can do to help?” and so on—not derailed by the logical non sequitur.

Leave a Reply