Learn English – It’s a pity / shame / unfortunate


Dear native speakers of British / American English,

I often find myself in the situation when I have to say one of these but then get confused about the choice of word. Is there any difference in meaning or formality between:

  • It's a shame you won't be able to join us.
  • It's a pity you won't be able to join us.
  • It's unfortunate you won't be able to join us.
  • It's too bad you won't be able to join us.

The reason why I ask this is because in my native language we tend to avoid words like "shame", "pity", and "unfortunate" in a sentence that should sound sympathetic. I have read related threads but am not very clear with the suggestions.

Thank you.

Best Answer

There is no difference in meaning between your examples, to which you could add:

I'm sorry you won't be able to join us.

The difference between each of them is in degree, and as you correctly guessed, you would choose from among them based on whether you wanted to minimize or enhance the person's sense of guilt at missing the meeting.

Largely a matter of taste I suppose but I would rank them from least to most negative sounding (in the US) as follows:

  1. I'm sorry you can't join us. (Places focus back on me)
  2. It's too bad you can't join us. (Just one of those unavoidable things)
  3. It's a shame you can't join us. (A shame affects both of us equally)
  4. It's unfortunate you can't join us. (Could be neutral but could be cold, official)
  5. It's a pity you can't join us. (I mean really, couldn't you have tried harder?)

Since these are all so similar, I would pay attention to the wording of the rest of the sentence/message to make sure I conveyed the desired tone.

Also, #2 is pretty informal, and #3 and #5 convey a personal regret and would not be used in a business environment in the US as much as the others. Whilst in the UK, a pity is much more common in all scenarios.