What is the word for the feeling of "remorse," but without guilt? Such as, sadness for a poor outcome, but with the realization that the actions taken were necessary or the best with the given amount of information.

I feel that this is different from remorse because remorse implies that there is a desire for the actions not to have been taken or to have been taken differently. In this scenario, there is no such desire, though there is a desire for the possibility of a better outcome.

There may also be a derivative term in the case that there was good or positive intentions, or if the results of the actions were known (therefore intended) but still necessary.

6 Answers 6


The closest that may come to the idea of a feeling of sadness without guilt, ("Well, I don't like it, it's bad, but it could not be helped") would be
regret [WP]

Regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often expressed by the term "sorry." Regret is often a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt, after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so. Regret is distinct from guilt, which is a deeply emotional form of regret — one which may be difficult to comprehend in an objective or conceptual way. In this regard, the concept of regret is subordinate to guilt in terms of its emotional intensity. [emphasis added]

  • 2
    OP says remorse implies that there is a desire for the actions not to have been taken or to have been taken differently. In your quoted part after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so. These two seem to be the same, which isn't what the OP wanted (I think).
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 15:13
  • @Frank This is true. I'm looking for a word which is possibly absent of the feeling of regret. I wonder if it is the same feeling chemically though, so the same word could be used? I think a distinct word may be of value though. Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:19
  • @NateDiamond Pity might be the word you are looking for - no guilt attached to pity.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:21
  • Pity is definitely interesting! In fact, I think that fits quite aptly! Pity includes in quite a few definitions the term 'misfortune', implying the consequences are out of control of the pitying party, which is exactly what I was going for. If you add it as an answer, I'll accept it. Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:24
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    Regret is the diplomatic term that fits the best. presstv.com/detail/2013/12/19/340761/… Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 19:20

The mood might be described as somber and the person might be resolved to their task

From Merriam Webster:

somber : 2 a of a serious mien : grave < somber dignitaries >

resolved : to make a definite and serious decision to do something

  • That's interesting, but is there no word which combines the two? Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:17

The word is likely sympathy

sympathy feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune


She had sympathy for her coworker's loss, and even though she wasn't involved, she knew that what her coworker needed right now was a friend.

Another example, per comment:

Even as he held the gun to John's head, he sniffed back a tear. He knew John was generally good; his sympathy for John came from a deep remembrance of their childhood history together. He'll miss John, but he had a job to do.

  • What if she was involved, indeed she was possibly the cause of her coworker's loss? Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:16
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    what if? Sympathy doesn't imply guilt or involvement. It's just sorrow for someone else's circumstances.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:57
  • I guess that is true. I had a preconceived notion that sympathy required feeling the same feelings (feeling with), as opposed to empathy being emulating the others feelings. The definition seems to be pretty spot on, though and includes the term 'pity' that @Frank suggested. Do you know if the mutual feeling is a necessary condition for sympathy? Or if it's just one use? Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 19:36
  • learnersdictionary.com/definition/sympathy seems to indicate potentially, it can be, but primary definitions are how one feels toward another's situation. It doesn't imply association or reciprocity.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 21:50

I never hear the noun form of the term, but this is the usual meaning of to rue one's actions or decisions -- to be rueful.

  • Rue is interesting, but seems to include (similar to 'regret') that there is a wish that the actions would not have been taken, possibly even a stronger sensation of this than a simple regret. "You'll rue the day you crossed me, Trebek." implies that Trebek would wish he had not crossed him. Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 17:21

If I did everything I could but the outcome still wasn't what I'd hoped and strived for, I'd be disappointed. Or, if I felt embarrassed by my failure (despite having done all I could) chagrined.

On the flip side, if I'd gotten what I wanted due to my good decisions or hard work (or even a little unexpected luck), is feel triumphant or, in a competitive scenario, or where the odds were really against me from the outset, victorious.


Meanings of remorse which do not imply guilt are very old, and it would appear from the OED are not used, and are marked as 'obsolete'. They centre around meanings 4, 5 and 6. the most recent example from 1715. (See below - I have quoted only the most recent examples in each category.)

†4. Regretful or remorseful remembrance or recollection of something. Cf. remord v. 2a. Obs. 1715 J. Browne & W. Oldisworth State Tracts II. 244 A young, an airy Spark,..now, without Remorse of Gout or Stone, From Sixty odd, sets up for Twenty-one.

†5. Sorrow, pity, compassion. Obs.In quot. 1692 in pl.: signs of sorrow or pity. 1700 Dryden Chaucer's Palamon & Arcite ii. 345 Curse on th' unpard'ning Prince, whom Tears can draw To no Remorse: who rules by Lions Law.

†6. A matter for regret; a pity. Obs. rare. 1576 Humphrey in J. Strype Ann. Reformation (1709) I. xliii. 431 That it was a remorse to seem, by sundry apparel, to sunder himself from those brethren.

It would therefore seem inappropriate, if there is no guilt, even to be starting with the word remorse and looking for an alternative. From a list of synonyms the only one which seemed remotely appropriate was anguish. I think you need to be searching for something completely different, such as regret or sorrow.

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    True, true, true. And that's why we want a different word. So, sadly, there's no answer here.
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 7:53
  • @Kris It might help if the OP (or someone) could supply some examples of circumstances in which one experiences this antiquated sense of remorse. What exactly are we needing to be 'remoreful' about?
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 8:48
  • An example which seems to fit the sense is a doctor who does his utmost -- literally everything he can or could --- to save a patient's life, who then dies anyway. Looking down at his dead patient, reflecting on his actions, you would say "the doctor felt ...."?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 11:18
  • @Dan Bron The word 'remorse' does not get anywhere near describing such doctor's feelings. My guess is that it made the doctor feel 'powerless, frustrated at the futility of his efforts, and grieved at the loss of his patient'.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 16:24
  • @WS2 I agree; I don't think remorse answers the question (as asked). The best I could come up with was "disappointment" or "frustration".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 16:31

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