In my language (Arabic), we say things that can be translated to:

  • Mr X, God have mercy on him, was ..

  • Mr X, God puts him in heaven, was. . . .

  • Mr X, God forgive him, was. . . .

How does one talk about a recently-deceased person in English in similar terms?

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    Another version from algerian arabic we use is: 'Mr X, may God's have mercy for him, did..' 'الله يرحمو' – Mina Sep 17 '14 at 8:52
  • "الله يرحمو " . it is exactly what we use here in Morocco, the part of Algeria and vice versa. It is sad that frontiers separate us while we are using the same language, even when talking about our dead ancestors. – whiteletters in blankpapers Sep 17 '14 at 9:01
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    @whitelettersandblankspaces, it's just "rest in peace" – Fattie Sep 17 '14 at 9:50
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    Off-topic, but إن شاءالله‎ is typically romanized as Insha'Allah or Inshallah. – Malvolio Sep 17 '14 at 15:02
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    Not an answer to this question, but in Hebrew the common phrase is "zichrono l'vracha", which means "may his memory be a blessing". – mweiss Sep 17 '14 at 19:15
up vote 76 down vote accepted

The phrase you are looking for is "may he rest in peace". "Robin Williams, may he rest in peace, was..."

The phrase "God put him in Heaven" would sound charmingly exotic. The person you are speaking to would likely have never heard it before, and your sentiment would sound all the more touching and sincere for its unfamiliarity.

"God forgive him" implies you think he did something terribly, terribly wrong. The clear implication (to a native English speaker) is "may God forgive him because I won't."

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    Another common one is “God rest his soul” (mostly used in Ireland, perhaps?). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 17 '14 at 8:20
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    "rest in peace is much more common than "may he rest in peace". – Fattie Sep 17 '14 at 9:50
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    @Joe I have to disagree with that. I've heard “may he rest in peace” in this context many, many times, but never just “rest in peace”. I've heard “bless her soul” with no overt subject, but that doesn't necessarily refer to dead people: “My grandmother, bless her soul, is/was the kindest person I've ever known” works equally well in present and past tense. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 17 '14 at 10:17
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    @Joe That was exactly the context I meant. I have never heard anyone use “rest in peace” without “may (s)he” used as interruption to a sentence. I’m sure it does occur, but I cannot recall ever hearing it: I have only heard, “Did you know that Gordon Cooper—may he rest in peace—believed in UFOs?”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 17 '14 at 14:55
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    "May God have mercy on his soul"... – jwenting Sep 18 '14 at 9:59

The previous answers are well and good, but you can also be respectful when talking about a recently-deceased person by referring to them simply as:

"The late Mr. Smith..."

This is a formal (and thus, respectful) indication that Mr. Smith has recently passed away, and also avoids any reference to religion, in case others might take offense or discomfort.

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    First thanks for the word 'late' +1 . i want to note additionnaly that even non-religious people may mention God in their emotional phrases as acquired from culture and society. I personally know an atheist who said once "الله يرحمو". – whiteletters in blankpapers Sep 17 '14 at 16:16
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    @whitelettersandblankspaces: sure they do sometimes, in English it's quite common since we have so many colloquialisms invented by Christians. But as an atheist I generally try to avoid bringing God into sincere speech since it would be inauthentic even if it's perfectly normal idiomatic English. Unless God is what I'm talking about, of course, as in this comment! And I try to avoid bringing God into insincere speech such as jokes, around people who would (quite reasonably) be offended by my irreverence. Don't always succeed, of course. – Steve Jessop Sep 17 '14 at 23:11
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    As an atheist, I'm quite comfortable saying "may his soul rest in peace" or "may God rest his soul" in English. Similarly, in Arabic, I usually use "الله يرحمو" (may God have mercy on him). The only exception is when I'm addressing a person who is an atheist himself. Personally, I don't like to bring up my "religiono-politics" in such sensitive times. If the other person feels better when I mention God (if they're religious, they most certainly will), then I see no reason why I wouldn't. – Adi Sep 18 '14 at 9:17
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    @DavidRicherby Anecdotal, but in my experience, "late" can be used to refer to someone for quite some time after they die. – TylerH Sep 18 '14 at 14:41
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    There's generally less need for politeness when somebody is long dead. Neither "The late Julius Ceasar" nor "Julias Ceasar, may God rest his soul" are likely to be used (except ironically) – MSalters Sep 19 '14 at 8:45

If you want to retain the use of the word "God" you could use the following:

"Mr. Smith, God rest his soul, ..."

The question is entitled 'Polite way of talking about a person recently dead.' Certainly in British English, references to religion are best avoided unless in a specifically religious context.

It would be usual to say either 'the late Mr X' or 'the recently deceased Mr X.'

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    "Dear departed" is another, more affectionate variant of this form, e.g. "Our dear departed John F. Kennedy" – user568458 Sep 22 '14 at 8:56
  • @user568458 That is well understood, but not common, in Britain and would sound slightly uncomfortable in a largely secular community. – Tony Balmforth Sep 23 '14 at 15:37

In English, the following are all in reasonably common use.

  • The Late ...
  • The late lamented ...
  • He will be missed
  • The sadly missed ...
  • The sorely missed ...
  • Rest in peace, ...
  • May he rest in peace
  • May his soul rest in peace
  • God rest his soul in peace
  • God rest his soul
  • God rest him
  • God rest him and keep him as his own
  • God Rest him and keep him

The meaning is clear, you will miss the deceased, and wish him peace, rest, and to be with God.

A common way to respectfully refer to a deceased person is of blessed memory

Used respectfully in reference to a dead person:

"a gracious lady of blessed memory" (from here)

or

"Mr. Smith of blessed memory"

It even has it's own acronym OBM - generally used in writing.

"Mr. Smith OBM."

My preference is to refer to a deceased person as if they're still a person, just in the past tense. For example, my grandmother was a wonderful woman, but had many challenges in her life. It's the keeping-the-memory-alive reference style.

I think adding anything involving "resting" in "peace" shows a strong religous bias. (Being Christian, this doesn't offend me, but might turn others off, especially if they have begun questioning their believes as part of the grieving process) If I must include a phrase when referring to a specific deceased person, I would probably have to choose "the late".

In general, secular nations don't use the "God" phrases outside formal or ceremonial situations. If the recently deceased was not known to you personally you simply call them "late" plus past tense: "The late Joan Rivers / Robin Williams was .....". If you are writing something, simple past tense without honorifics is standard. See Wikipedia for many, many examples.

Even England, with its strong Christian history, makes its most important official pronouncement with no reference to any religion: "The King is dead. Long live the King."

Ben's lengthy list would be fine in a speech, most commonly at the person's funeral. Many of those terms would sound rather pompous elsewhere.

I like "Mr X, God puts him in heaven, was..." - it has a pleasant far-away-land feel to it.

"Mr X, God's have mercy for him, " is a bit too close to "May God have mercy on your soul" - a phrase to AVOID at all costs. It was often spoken by the priest or judge just before the condemned person's execution, the unspoken second part being "because we won't."

There is a phrasal verb difference you might feel like minding

Mr. X, who passed AWAY / to have passed away ...

means the person is dead.

If you say Mr. X passed OUT, you'd tell the person lost consciousness, or you'd be commenting on business opportunities.

protected by RegDwigнt Sep 17 '14 at 23:17

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