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I have rarely heard regret used like this, and while it sounds wrong to me, the dictionary doesn't appear to preclude this usage. Dictionary.com:

Regret

1. to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.): He no sooner spoke than he regretted it.

2. to think of with a sense of loss: to regret one's vanished youth.

For example, is the following correct?

He always regretted her impulsive decisions.

  • In Indian English, a direct translation of a polite expression for 'rejection' -- "Your application has been regretted " (rejected) -- this is not standard English. – Kris Jul 5 '14 at 6:32
  • In the OP's example, it could be resented. The dictionary does not define regret in the sense of 'resent'. – Kris Jul 5 '14 at 6:34
  • @Kris yes you could replace regretted with resented, but that would mean something different. Resentment is not sorrow or remorse. – Daniel Jul 5 '14 at 14:51
  • Well, regret could mean sorrow or remorse over someone else's actions as well, perhaps. However, that kind of sorrow or remorse is not against the person. – Kris Jul 7 '14 at 9:50
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Oxford American Dictionary includes the following example of the first definition:

I regretted that he did not see you.

So it seems like it's possible to regret something that you didn't cause. Although this is not the common use, I also can't think of a better word.

  • OK, that's a reputable source. In the interim here, I also remembered that the noun regret might bear more of this usage than the verb, in the phrase "to the regret of". It sounds quite natural to me to say "The teacher had to cancel the pageant, much to the regret of the students." – Daniel Jul 6 '14 at 22:48
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As for grammaticality your sentence "He always regretted her impulsive decisions." is entirely acceptable and immediately understandable. (Data point of 1 native BrE speaker here.)

As for its usage, again, yes one can certainly "regret" someone else's actions; only the other day I caught a snippet on the TV about a man in California regretting his son's actions in killing a number of people. I don't recall that he used the word "regret" but that was certainly what he was doing.

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Regret, as commonly understood, always implies a sense of disappointment about one's own decisions or actions. Those uses of regret which seem to refer to the decisions or actions of others are misuses of the word in order to avoid acknowledging one's own resentment of those decisions/actions.

If the intent is truly to convey feeling bad about what someone else did in a non-condescending way or without trying to shift responsibility off of oneself, then the appropriate word is lament.

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I regret his decision, I regret his leaving:

Though it doesn't sound ungrammatical ( at least to me) there is not much evidence of "regret" used with respect to someone else's actions. I'd say that usage of "regret" is mainly with respect to one's action.

  • I know it's rare, but are there any sources to cite on the precise usage of regret, or must I understand it's allowed but unused? – Daniel Jul 5 '14 at 14:42
  • @Daniel - I found "I also regret you choosing Logan over me," he said, rising." sentence.yourdictionary.com/regret. My impression is that its use with respect to someone else's action is probably allowed but very uncommon! – user66974 Jul 5 '14 at 15:07
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Empathy not regret should be the proper term unless there is reason for a guilty conscience. Getting the accused in a legal trial to admit regret over an alleged action will surely conclude negatively for that individual if they are claiming innocence; I posit this shows my position to be falsifiable.

  • I'm not sure I follow you; I'm not looking for a better word, I'm asking about regret. Is the usage I exemplified up there a correct usage? – Daniel Jul 5 '14 at 14:45

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