Is it okay nowadays to use the phrase "it's a pity" in the everyday conversation in the contexts like in following example:

"Please how do I get to airport?"
"It's a pity, I don't know."

If not, what would be an appropriate equivalent?

Edited (added):

As it follows from answers, this phrase is almost never used by native English speakers. Could you please specify how this phrase sounds for native speaker - as too formal or as archaic or anything else?

  • I would rarely use the phrase it's a pity, and never in that context. In fact, I'm struggling now to think of a context in which I would use it.
    – TRiG
    Oct 25, 2010 at 23:23
  • 1
    The Dutch and Germans make extensive use of this. In Dutch, they would use the word "jammer" in this context, which is usually translated as "it's a pity". Using "it's a pity" in English comes from literally translating the Dutch rather than using the appropriate English alternatives. As a native speaker, it sounds awkward to hear this.
    – Eric
    Jan 2, 2011 at 8:20

11 Answers 11


Certainly "I don't know, I'm afraid" is more common in England today. In this particular context, referring to yourself, I would say it sounds more archaic than formal.

"It's a shame" would often be used in other circumstances, e.g. "It's a shame the weather spoiled the event." Today "it's a pity" would be more commonly used in such a circumstance.

  • 2
    I disagree that it is archaic - not even close. I've heard plenty of people say "it's a pity."
    – Jez
    Jan 13, 2013 at 15:13

I'd prefer "unfortunately" instead of "it's a pity".


I normally say I am sorry. The only case where I would use pity is in for pity's sake. (See the first example of phrases containing pity.)

  • 8
    Or "Pity the fool!"
    – mmyers
    Aug 14, 2010 at 17:10

The more common usage in my part of Texas would be "I'm sorry, I don't know," because it is a "simple" problem; whereas "It's a pity," "Sadly," or even "Alas," would be for situations where the problem more profound (such as you have to pick up the president, pope, or mother-in-law).


"It's a pity" is slightly old-fashioned, but I do hear it used from time to time.

It's a pity that he didn't spell-check his letter to the editor.

It's a pity that we didn't drive a stake through the vampire's heart when we had the chance.

It can imply a slight amount of sympathy, condescension, or (yes) pity on the part of the speaker.

  • 4
    "It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance."...Just in case you wanted another example...
    – kitukwfyer
    Aug 16, 2010 at 19:10

It's a pity isn't quite worn out yet, but using Pity! as a complete sentence is distinctively "Britishy". What is old-fashioned is to use the 'tis contraction instead of it is: `tis a pity!

The word pity is both a verb and noun. Should the public pity Lance Armstrong? It is an important word in the English language for which there is no equally glib substitute. Feel sorry for is three words which can be expressed by one.

In North America, the expression too bad is often used rather than it's a pity. For instance, rather than it's a pity you aren't able to attend becomes too bad you aren't able to attend. Not all uses of one phrase substitute for the other. Too bad! by itself also means although you don't like it, you should stop complaining and accept the situation (also expressed by phrases like tough luck!, suck it up! or deal with it!) whereas it's a pity has no such use.

It's a pity (that I don't know how to get to the airport) isn't a usage you will likely hear from a native speakers because it expresses an irrational degree of regret over something trivial. It sounds as if the speaker missed some past opportunity to learn how to get to the airport, and for some reason it is regretfully too late to acquire that knowledge.

The "Britishy" Pity!, however, can be used for lamenting trivial annoyances, similarly to words like darn, shucks, drats and so on.

A: I'm afraid we're out of tea, darling.

B: Pity!


Before I came to Germany from America, I never said "It's a pity." I would say, "It's too bad."

But "it's a pity" must have been published in some basic vocabulary book here because almost all German speakers who speak English say, "It's a pity". I imagine it's British originally.

  • 1
    Ha ha, their schooling might be the culprit, but usually, when a non-native speaker frequently opts for a less common, but nonetheless used phrase, it is due to that same phrase existing in their mother tongue. 'It's a pity' is the German 'es ist schade.' Take a look at how often the utterance "Ja, es ist schade." appears on the internet: google.com/search?safe=off&q="ja+es+ist+schade"
    – Talia Ford
    Sep 16, 2013 at 23:26
  • I am German and I rarely use or hear "es ist schade". This does not even fit in all contexts, where "it's a pity" fits, only in the "It's a pity that it rained all day on their wedding" type of usage, not in the "I'm afraid, I'm sorry" type.
    – skymningen
    Sep 17, 2013 at 7:12

I have been looking for a good alternative to pity and a shame, as they are both quite 'pityful' expressions. "I am sorry" (if you take it literally) is as pityful if not more as pity and shame, because the person saying it identifies themself with being in a sorry state!

I like the suggestion given earlier on this page. The most neutral expression to replace "it's a pity" or "that's a shame" would be "that's unfortunate". There's no drama in it — it's just an observation.

  • 1
    Did you mean for this to be a comment rather than an answer? I'm having a hard time seeing how it expands on the earlier answers – it looks more like it's just agreeing with what was written before. If you mean to add information, you should reorganize your post to make it more clear what you're offering. Sep 16, 2013 at 23:21

I prefer "I'm afraid" or, if I'm feeling quirky, "Alas!"


To me, the best alternatives would be "I am sorry ..." or "unfortunately ..."


Pardon me

"Please how do I get to airport?"
"Pardon me, I don't know."


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