This might sound like a silly question, but what feelings does the verb "to miss (someone)" exactly express?

I know in which context the verb is used, but not the exact feelings behind it, if that makes sense, particularly because the verb is used in different contexts.

The dictionaries I have consulted (Oxford Learner's & Cambridge Dictionary) both define the verb as feeling sad about the fact that a person/thing is not present. They also both give these entries as an example:

  • "Anne, who died on 22 July, will be sadly missed by all who knew her"
  • "She will be sadly missed by all who knew her."

How do "sadly" & "missed" go together if "missed" includes "sad" in its definition? This leads me to think that "to miss" has a somewhat different meaning than sad. Am I correct in this?

  • to feel the absence of a person. But sadly missed is really the idea of: we are sad and will miss her, squished into one unfortunate phrase, that, I'm afraid constitutes poor writing.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 17:48
  • It remains, however, idiomatic, @Lambie. I've seen it used by many people. I myself use it, too. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 17:52
  • Over half a century ago, most people decided sadly missed was just too much of a cliche. These days, absent friends are much more likely to be [sorely missed][(books.google.com/ngrams/…) Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:15
  • 1
    Languages are not very good at expressing emotion. To miss someone is to be sad, or at least melancholy, because of their absence. If the absence is permanent, so is the missing. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:43
  • I'm sorry but languages are what we have to express emotions. The only other way is acting out.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:49

3 Answers 3


I What is exactly expressed is rather on the border of linguistics and in an area that is connected to psychology. The all-encompassing definitions of the dictionaries, in spite of the scarcity of the detail they provide is all that one can hope for, unless inclined to do much research that, I am afraid, is not what linguists are much interested in usually.

II You are correct in suspecting a difference of meaning, but it lies with "sadly" and not "miss".

(OALD) sadly very much and in a way that makes you sad
♦ She will be sadly missed.
♦ They had hoped to win and were sadly disappointed.
♦ If you think I'm going to help you again, you're sadly (= completely) mistaken.
♦ His work has been sadly neglected.

So, "sadly" has come to mean essentially "very much".

  • Thank you, @LPH. That makes so much sense. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:37
  • 'Sadly' also adds gravitas. 'She will be missed by ...' sounds a little lightweight, and adding 'really' is also rather underwhelming in an obit. // But can't one miss someone for their wit etc? In which case, as one reflects fondly, one will be less joyous rather than in the sad regions. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:58

The use of "sadly" was not intended as limiting, but rather descriptive of ONE way to describe the feeling of 'missing' someone or something. Missing in English, referring to the loss of a person, animal, event, etc. simply means to long for them or it. Sadness typically accompanies this longing when dealing with people, pets, but not always other things. "I miss the old days" is likely a feeling of nostalgia, which is not necessarily sadness. Often, that feeling is a fondness that comes from a memory of something that is gone.


Missed in this context roughly means yearning for the presence of the object being missed. While this is inherently a non-positive feeling, it doesn’t have to be especially negative. It can include almost as much anticipation of reunion as it does yearning for presence, making it very nearly a positive feeling.

This is unlikely to be the case when the object is a recently deceased person.

When added to missed, sadly indicates that not only does the person wish the object was present, it’s absence makes the person sad.

One would not use sadly missed for not having gravy with your mashed potatoes or for having missed someone at a 2 o’clock meeting where you’ll see the person at 3.

You might use it for a living person when it was a meeting just prior to a prolonged separation. Your daughter was unable to attend your party before your departure overseas because her school bus broke down, and is now sadly missing you.

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