Is it offensive to say 'condolences' to people with a relative who is hospitalised?

Please explain answer and provide sources.

  • 1
    Please provide your research, so we don't duplicate it. Please define "offensive". Please give more details about the context. Please tell us what the intended function of the utterance is. – AmE speaker Aug 2 '17 at 11:06

Condolences can be expressed for any misfortune, but is most commonly used for the death of a relative, friend, neighbour, colleague etc.

Merriam-Webster gives several examples of condolences being used following a death, but also gives this example:

Within mere hours of Ted Lambros's rejection for tenure at Harvard, communications began to pour in from every important university center of the United States. Some were simply to express condolences.

Here, people are expressing sympathy that Mr Lambros did not get the position he wanted.

The Cambridge dictionary definition is

sympathy and sadness for the family or close friends of a person who has recently died, or an expression of this, especially in written form:

and this reflects the most common use of the term.

Nevertheless. it would be generally understood as a slightly humorous, but genuine, expression of sympathy for any minor misfortune such as a missed bus, broken saucer, unwanted sports result etc. It would also be understood as sympathy for a more serious, but non-deadly, misfortune.

However, in the case of a relative going into hospital, in a potentially life-threatening situation, it would not be appropriate. Because the word is so strongly associated with death, its use in a situation where a person might be going to die, could be taken as suggesting that the patient was as good as dead already. In such a situation it would be tactless, and potentially distressing, to say "Condolences". So, yes, it could be offensive to use the word when a relative has been hospitalised.

  • Thanks, davidlol! What is your source for the last paragraph, please? – BCLC Mar 26 '18 at 6:22

Yes. condolences is expressed only when a person is dead. You should not express "condolences" to the person who is is alive or any relative.


  • 1
    Why is your answer 'no' rather than 'yes' ? – BCLC Aug 2 '17 at 12:18
  • Do you have any citations for this? – marcellothearcane Aug 3 '17 at 8:54
  • @JBrunoDSouza what's your citation please? – BCLC Aug 4 '17 at 6:49
  • J Bruno DSouza, I wasn't notified of edit. The link says sorrow, misfortune or grief not and grief. Therefore, you misinterpreted? – BCLC Mar 26 '18 at 6:21

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