French sympathy phrases are certainly not the simplest of French phrases, however, with a little practice and a lot of careful choosing, you can get the French sympathy card inscription just right before sending it. Whether you choose a simple personal letter, or an elegant carte de condoléances, the key to getting it right is to use a few traditional phrases. French sympathy phrases that have been used and reused for decades may seem old-fashioned, but the French language is steeped in tradition, making these phrases not only acceptable, but desirable, even today.
French Word for Sympathy
In French, the word for sympathy is condoléances, roughly equivalent to 'sympathy', but a cognate of the English word 'condolences'. While in English 'our deepest condolences' may be a dated phrase, phrases in French used to express sympathy are still made with the French word condoléances.
Condoléances is one of the French words that is always plural, just like toilettes or informations. For this reason, you always need to make sure that your adjective is plural as in: sincères condoléances or profondes condoléances, for example.
Also, watch out for the false cognate sympathique. The French word sympathique is used to describe everything and everyone who is 'nice'; it is not a translation of 'sympathy'.
Formal Sympathy Phrases
Any of these phrases can be altered to include the familiar form of 'you' (tu) instead of the formal vous, but before you decide to use an informal phrase, be sure that you know the person to whom the letter is going sufficiently well to use informal tu. The general rule is use vous until someone invites you to say tu (tutoyer quelqu'un); use these phrases unless you were already on a tu-basis before.
- Nous vous prions d'accepter nos sincères condoléances. (We ask you to accept our most sincere sympathy.) This phrase is truly a formal one. It expresses sympathy without saying anything personal. This phrase can be used to express sympathy for anyone from your boss to a distant neighbor whose life you are not a part of.
- Veuillez recevoir mes condoléances les plus sincères et croire en mes respectueux sentiments. (Please accept my most sincere condolences and have faith in my respectful thoughts.) While the translation for this phrase may sound truly odd in English, rest assured that it is a common way to express a sentiment. In formal letters, one closes the correspondence with a similar line (minus the sympathy phrase), which is completely normal for formal correspondence.
- Je vous prie de bien vouloir accepter mes sincères condoléances. (Please accept my sincere condolences.) This phrase is a basic one that can be used in all formal situations; this phrase is very formal, but also still among the simplest of phrases. If some of the French phrases seem long and overly formal to you, this is the most bare-bones of the well-formed traditional French phrases for sympathy.
Less Formal French Sympathy Phrases
The following phrases are more from the heart than out of a duty to send one's sympathy; you can make any of these phrases even more personal by replacing the vous with tu.
- Nous partageons votre peine en ce moment de deuil. Nos sincères condoléances, à vous et à votre famille. (We share your difficulty in this time of grieving. Our sincere condolences to you and to your family.) This is a thoughtful message between families who are well-acquainted, but not best friends.
- Je suis de tout cœur avec vous. (I'm with you with all my heart and soul.) This expression of sympathy is well regarded among close friends and family; this is a great phrase for replacing the vous with toi.
- C'est avec émotion que j'apprends le deuil qui vous frappe tout d'un coup et je tiens à ce que vous soyez assuré de ma chaleureuse sympathie. (It was with emotion that I learned of the grief that so suddenly struck you; my warmest sympathy is with you.) Another good option for people you know fairly well.
Best written down, these phrases are traditional sympathy expressions in France. Some lend themselves better to oral delivery than others (Je suis de tout cœur avec toi is a good example). You can find these expressions on sympathy greeting cards or write them into a blank card of your choice..