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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.

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  • In Indian English, a direct translation of a polite expression for 'rejection' -- "Your application has been regretted " (rejected) -- this is not standard English.
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 6:32
  • In the OP's example, it could be resented. The dictionary does not define regret in the sense of 'resent'.
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 6:34
  • @Kris yes you could replace regretted with resented, but that would mean something different. Resentment is not sorrow or remorse.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 9:50

6 Answers 6

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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.

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  • 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
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 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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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.

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  • 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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 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.

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  • 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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 14:45
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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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Late to the discussion here. Such a use does not sound correct to me, but I acknowledge that it is used on rare occasions. I agree with the respondent that such occasions would be more honestly served by “lament”. Often regret about others actions is used by politicians, and may carry an implied threat eg. The US regrets the decision of the United Nations.

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    Hello, Sue. Please 'take the tour'. Answers expressing opinion and lacking supporting references are not usually considered helpful on ELU. Look at the 'scores' awarded to the other answers here. Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 13:27

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