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How to express the condolence to someone who lost somebody? Like for example a death of a husband or wife?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Mein herzlichstes Beileid.

or

Mein tiefes Mitgefühl.

are standard phrases for this situation. If you want more variety have a look at Trauerspruch.de. But these are mainly written condolences on that site.

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"Mein [herzliches] Beileid" is certainly the standard, so you can't really go wrong with that (except for a close friend, where this might be too impersonal). The phrases on the site John linked to seem overly kitschig to me, though. They are also quite long, so if you try to say them, you risk coming across like someone who, well, memorized a phrase. Even written, many of these would feel insincere to me, on account of their kitschigkeit. –  fzwo Dec 2 '11 at 10:04
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Personally.

Using pre-fabricated standard condolence phrases is... well, for some, it's probably a way of saying "I don't know what to say". But I think if it's heartfelt, you'll find something personal. Even if it's only "Scheiße. Es tut mir leid.".

If it's just a formality, on the other hand, go with John Smithers' suggestion of "Mein [herzliches] Beileid". That's the standard.

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"Es tut mir leid" is simpler, but can you really say to someone you are not close to? For example, your boss? –  BЈовић Dec 2 '11 at 9:57
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If you weren't close, it's probably safer to use one of the standard phrases John suggested. Though "es tut mir leid" still works. It also depends on whether it's spoken or written; the latter tends to be more formal. –  fzwo Dec 2 '11 at 9:59
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"herzliches" or even "herzlichstes" is not appropriate in this situation. Are you glad, that somebody died? I hope, your are not. So "Mein Beileid" is all you say at the funeral. And that's it. Nothing more, nothing less.

What does fzwo regret? Did he / she kill the person and rue the deed? I hope not, so "Es tut mir leid" is definitely inadequate. And certainly nobody wants to hear shit (Scheiße) during the ceremony.

Some of the phrases on Trauerspruch.de are really "kitschig". They might be appropriate writing a letter, but not while shaking hands before the church service.

So, keep to the standard "Mein Beileid" and everybody will know what you mean.

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"herzlich" means "coming from my heart" (my heartfelt sympathy). Example here: duden.de/rechtschreibung/Beileid_aussprechen –  John Smithers Dec 3 '11 at 23:07
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I do not share Lexis opinion on that, but maybe he/she thinks about "herzlich" beeing inappropriate in this situation because in these days the use of "herzlich" is kind of restricted to "Herzlichen Glückwunsch [zum Geburtstag]" or other "positive" contexts like "jemanden herzlich Willkommen heißen"). –  0x6d64 Dec 5 '11 at 9:05
    
Die Kritik an fzwo teile ich, aber sie gehört in einen Kommentar dort. "Herzlich" klingt in meinen Ohren auch zu schwülstig, aber für Leute die es barock mögen, oder zu sehr steifen Anlässen - Chef, Bürgermeister, Kapitänsbestattung ... vielleicht. –  user unknown Dec 10 '11 at 5:33
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While "herzlichstes beileid" might be over the top "herzliches Beileid" surely is the standard expression. –  gilligan Dec 22 '11 at 10:24
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