These two words have been haunting me for quite long. Please provide some logic to understand and use them efficiently.

Ex: Regrettably/Regretfully, she could not see her father for the last time.

  • Regrettably, she would not see her father again. (After all, she did at some time see her father for the last time.) – Xanne Dec 9 '17 at 9:50
  • 4
    Did you try looking them up in a dictionary? If so, what was confusing about what you found? – Kat Dec 9 '17 at 17:39

Garner's Modern American Usage (p705) has an entry on the two words:

Errors made are regrettable; the people who made them should be regretful. The most common error is to misuse regretful for regrettable, particularly in the adverbial forms.

So you need regrettably in your example:

Regrettably, she could not see her father for the last time.

Regretfully is less likely to start a sentence. A possible example is:

Regretfully she admitted to having been unkind to her father the last time she saw him.

  • The different usages are brought out by the use of the comma in the pragmatic marker usage (Regrettably,), which is a comment showing the writer's / speaker's feelings on the matter. Regretfully here is a true adverb modifying admitted. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 9 '17 at 10:56
  • 8
    While the final example is grammatically sound and illustrates the point, in actual practice it might be preferable to write "She regretfully admitted". This makes it clear that the author's intention is to indicate her admitting something in a regretful tone of voice, rather than making the error of misusing "regretfully" for "regrettably". – jmbpiano Dec 9 '17 at 15:41
  • @jmbpiano. I agree that She regretfully admitted is less likely to be misinterpreted than Regretfully she admitted. Certainly, this Google sentence ( Regretfully she declined his invitation to return home.) prompts the question: Did she decline the invitation with regret? Or Is it regrettable that she declined it? – Shoe Dec 9 '17 at 16:29
  • Ironically, "regrettably, she could not see her father for the last time", is not a reasonable statement. She either has, or will, see her father for the last time, or never saw her father. If she ever saw her father, it's not possible for her to "not see her father for the last time", as there will always be a last time that she saw her father. What was probably meant was that she could not go to a meeting between her and her father which they had planned as the last time that she would see him. While the statement might be interpreted to make sense in context, out of context it doesn't. – Makyen Dec 9 '17 at 19:28
  • 1
    @Makyen While I see where you're going (and you are technically correct) I disagree that the statement doesn't make sense. I feel that any native English speaker, upon hearing the statement, would immediately understand the intended meaning regardless of there being any other context. I certainly understood the meaning, as has most others here (yourself included) it would appear. – Doc Dec 9 '17 at 19:32

A situation can be regrettable. A person can feel regretful.


Shoe is right that the adjectives regretful and regrettable cannot be used interchangeably:

The adjectives regretful and regrettable are distinct in meaning: regretful means ‘feeling or showing regret’, as in she shook her head with a regretful smile, while regrettable means ‘giving rise to regret; undesirable’, as in the loss of jobs is regrettable.
ODO: regretfully

However, it is not true that the adverbs regrettably and regretfully have the same distinction, at least in non-formal contexts:

The adverbs regretfully and regrettably have not, however, preserved the same distinction. Regretfully is used as a normal adverb to mean ‘in a regretful manner’ (he sighed regretfully), but it is also used as a sentence adverb meaning ‘it is regrettable that’ (regretfully, mounting costs forced the branch to close). In this latter use it is synonymous with regrettably. This is disliked by traditionalists and should be avoided in formal contexts.

Unless you are writing formally, you can use either in your sentence. In formal writing use regrettably.

  • Please don't answer questions which blatantly violate the site rules. – curiousdannii Dec 11 '17 at 7:41

Both words have the same root: regret, meaning to feel sadness, repentance, or disappointment, but they each have their own way of dealing with it.

Regrettably describes something that deserves regret, and is used like the word "unfortunately." Regrettably is like bad luck, and it often kicks off a sentence:

For reference:



"Regrettably" is used for a situation that is unfortunately not as you would like it to be. It doesn't assign any fault, and doesn't say you could have done anything differently.

"Regretfully" is used if there is a regrettable situation, you caused it, and you are sorry that you caused it.

"Regrettable" describes a situation, "regretfully" describes the feelings of the person who caused it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.