How to express sadness in English

by Andrea Byaruhanga
July 13, 2020

Have you ever had an emotion that you just didn’t know how to express in English? It can be incredibly frustrating! We’re all complex people with deep thoughts and feelings. But when you can’t find the right words in your target language, you might feel misunderstood. To help you avoid some of these situations, let’s discuss how to express feelings of sadness and concern!

Expressing sadness in English

As with any language, there are several ways to say the same thing in English. But that’s not a necessarily bad thing, is it? Sure, that means there’s more to learn, but variety keeps things interesting! Let’s dig in!


Some common adjectives for sadness are: sad, down, upset, miserable, and the very informal blah. They can be used more or less interchangeably in all structures. 

Structures for sadness 

Let’s look at four different structures to express feelings of sadness: We’ll use present simple, present continuous, present perfect, and present perfect continuous.

→ Present simple and present continuous are used to express emotions that a person is currently feeling.

  • Present simple: Subject + be + adjective (about / because / that)

I’m sad (about the test I failed). 

My cousin moved to a small, boring town. She’s miserable (because there’s nothing to do)!

  • Present continuous: Subject + be + feeling + adjective (about / because / that)

I’m feeling blah (because of the wet weather).

→ Present perfect and present perfect continuous also refer to feelings you’re having now, but they started in the past. With these tenses, you might also use an adverb like “lately” or “recently.”

  • Present perfect: Subject + have/has + been + adjective (about / because / that) 

She’s been down lately (because she failed the test).

  • Present perfect continuous: Subject + have/has + been feeling + adjective (about / because / that)

My best friend has been feeling upset (that I forgot her birthday).

English idioms to express sadness

Sometimes, regular expressions just can’t convey your feelings as well as you’d like. In that case, consider using an idiom! Idioms are expressions whose meanings are different from the literal meaning of the actual words. 

These idioms can be used with the same structures we discussed above (using whichever verb tense makes sense for your situation).

  • Down in the dumps

I’ve been down in the dumps (lately). 

  • Blue 

I’m blue (because I miss my friend). 

  • Under the weather

My mum has been feeling under the weather (recently). 

Showing concern in English

Sometimes you’re not the one who’s feeling down. If you know someone who isn’t happy, you’ll want to show you care.

Here are some expressions to help you do just that!

Asking about an issue

When someone seems upset and you want to know what the problem is, you can use one of these expressions.

  • “Why the long face?” (A “long face” means a sad facial expression). 

You’re looking really sad. Why the long face? 

  • “Are you okay?”

I just saw you fighting with your girlfriend! Are you okay?

  • “What’s the matter?” / “What’s wrong?”

You didn’t come to the party last night! What’s wrong? 

Showing sympathy in English

If you know someone is going through a difficult time, these expressions can help you show that you feel badly for them.

  • “I’m sorry.” / “I’m sorry to hear that.”

I’m sorry to hear that your dog has been really sick lately!

  • “That’s terrible.”

I heard that someone stole your car last week. That’s terrible

  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”

My husband told me your children’s daycare has closed down. Is there anything I can do to help? 

  • “That sucks.” (Very informal)

I know you didn’t get the job you wanted—that sucks! I’m sure you’ll get the next one you apply for. 

Say how you really feel 

Learn these useful expressions, and you’ll be able to communicate your emotions whenever you’re feeling down in the dumps!

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