English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I would like to better understand when I have to use regret and when remorse.

In Italian we have two words:

  • Rimpianto: used when I'm sad because I didn't do something in the past (e.g. I didn't buy a staff and now it costs the double).
  • Rimorso: used when I'm sad because I did something wrong in the past (e.g. I offended a friend and now we don't talk anymore).

I read the dictionary and it seems that the word regret can be used as the world rimorso.

A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

The word remorse, on the other hand, confused me because it is defined as

Deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed.

So, what are the correspondence of rimorso and rimpianto in English?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Remorse is deeper and stronger than regret. One sense of regret is

A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

You may have associated regret with Italian "rimorso" because a deed was done. But regret is not limited to the above sense; it can also be used to talk about deeds that weren't done, ie also has sense

A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that hasn't happened or hasn't been done.

Regret thus seems to correspond with your "rimpianto" in that, in your example, you focus on the deleterious consequences of an action (or inaction).

As well, regret may be used of acts (of commission or omission) performed by others.

Remorse addresses the speaker's moral sense of personal guilt. It is directed inward, a gnawing feeling of distress over one's own responsibility for one's own grave error—in many cases a sense of having sinned; while regret is directed outward—an unmoralized feeling of distress over the unhappy consequences of an act which may have been performed (or omitted) by anyone.

So remorse can be your rimorso if, in your example, you are using the same sense of "doing something wrong."

share|improve this answer
I suggest a slight expansion: one may also regret something somebody else did. – StoneyB Aug 24 '12 at 11:32
+1 But remorse could also be felt for an act not done if the person feeling remorse had a serious duty to act. "He felt remorse over his failure to enter the burning building to save his child." – bib Aug 24 '12 at 12:46
These are all true, @StoneyB, bib. Thanks for pointing them out. Please feel free to edit my answer as you see fit – Cool Elf Aug 24 '12 at 12:54
@CoolElf, not at all; I had been about to approve (and improve) SB's edit when FF rejected it as changing too much of your answer. – jwpat7 Aug 24 '12 at 16:55
I see. I'm sorry to hear that, @jwpat7. The way I see it, all answers posted in our community are open for improvement. But then I also know that, like you said, moderators and other members are careful not to change people's original intentions. I'm grateful for the entire system and trust both your and FF's judgment. I could've also inserted SB's idea myself, but I wondered how to fit it in the pretty compact structure. If you'd like to give the edit another try and if there's anything I can do at my end, please tell me – Cool Elf Aug 24 '12 at 17:27

The meanings overlap, but they are not the same.

An easy way to get the idea is that regret is for doing something stupid while remorse is for doing something immoral.

You lend your neighbour some money and he leaves town without paying it back - you may regret lending him that money, but probably wouldn't feel remorse.

You have an affair and get caught, your wife is heartbroken, then you may well feel remorse for what you did (though possibly not regret!)

share|improve this answer

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 1 '12 at 19:57

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.