From time to time, the opportunity to do something passes permanently, meaning there is no way to go back to the situation before. A few example situations:

  • I submitted a term paper with a hard deadline. A week later, while re-reading my own work, I noticed that I had forgotten to delete a bogus draft line that was untrue and not even coherent. Too bad that there was no way to resubmit (and it had probably already been read and graded).

  • Both of my grandfathers died before I was conscious. They were the only people in my vicinity who knew anything about the field of study I am now in, so we could have had lots of interesting conversations if they hadn't passed.

  • While scrolling through the photos on my camera, I accidentally hit the permanent-delete button on a video clip of a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

When I think back to these things, I feel a very specific kind of emotion that seems adjacent to regret, but isn't quite the same. It's more a kind of lamenting of a tragic fate. The first example could perhaps be argued to be "regret about inaction", but I only noticed my mistake afterwards; it wasn't a conscious decision to make my error. Similarly, I had no hand (I hope) in the passing of my grandfathers, so I can't regret my own actions. In the third, it's not like I wanted it to happen, but it happened and there is no recourse. There's no point being sad, angry or anxious because there is no uncertainty nor fault; the situation is 100% irrecoverable, and I am completely powerless.

In Dutch, my native language, we would use the adjectives jammer or spijtig (like the French dommage) to describe similar situations, although they express a milder, more trivial version of it. In English, expressions that come to mind surrounding this emotion are "It's too bad that ..." or "It's sad that ..." or "I wish ...".

Is there a noun for this regret-esque sentiment?

  • 1
    The 'spilt milk syndrome', a variant on the adage, has a limited currency. May 2 at 11:55

3 Answers 3



    If you say that it is a pity that something is the case, you mean that you feel disappointment or regret about it.

It is a great pity that all pupils in the city cannot have the same chances.
Pity you haven't got your car, isn't it.
It seemed a pity to let it all go to waste.

  • 1
    You could also say "It's a shame..." the same way
    – dubious
    Feb 17 at 14:13
  • @dubious True. Personally, though, I tend to avoid using it in this sense, because of its "latent" literal connotations. I mean, shame is literally an emotion, and there's definitely no point in feeling it in relation to such things... But that's just me, heh...
    – m.a.a.
    Feb 17 at 14:20
  • Would you say "I feel/have pity" (as a noun similar to "I feel/have regret") in English?
    – Mew
    Feb 17 at 15:01
  • No, because feeling or having pity refers to feeling sorry for someone. The sense corresponding to the French dommage is always a pity. Feb 17 at 15:51
  • 1
    Nah - you can't really feel misfortune in English. You can certainly feel regret or feel remorse (or feel remorseful), but both of those - especially the second - tend to evoke guilt. I expect there are better words for wistfully reminiscing and wishing the past had been different that don't imply wishing one could go back in time and do things different (implying that the past is only imperfect because one didn't do things different, which nods in the direction of "guilt"). But offhand I can't think of anything. Feb 17 at 19:57

Lamentation can be shown simply by means of the exclamation "alas".

(Cambridge Dictionary) alas an expression of sadness or disappointment, especially when there is no hope that a situation will change

"Alas and alack" is also used for a great disappointment.

A perhaps less formal word is "woe", but it is not used without a complement.

(Cambridge Dictionary) woe is me said to express how unhappy you are

  • I'm cold and wet and I don't have enough money for the bus home. Oh woe is me!
  • Alas is still used in some relatively formal contexts, but I wouldn't expect to hear it today in conversational contexts. And I'd always expect Woe is me! to be a "facetious" usage today. It just occurs to me that That's a shame! is still alive and kicking in relaxed conversational contexts. But I haven't heard Ah, diddums! in a long time (but that one was always "unsympathetically ironic" anyway). Feb 17 at 18:06

Remorse - a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs.

  • That's not a valid link. I guess you wanted it to link to the definition you gave. Can you edit it in?
    – Joachim
    May 2 at 7:06

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