The Saddest Phrases In The English Language


Heartbroken is a tough word. We define it as “crushed with sorrow or grief.” We’ve all been there at one time or another—you know it as soon as you feel it, and you can’t wait for it to go away. This concept tends to rear its ugly head around February 14th.

WATCH: Quotes On Love And Heartbreak

Back to school

Back to school are three words that most kids loathe. (Yet, this may have to also appear on our Happiest Words list because it's a phrase all parents love.) While there’s no hard data to support that this is one of the saddest phrases in the English language, we bet that if you randomly polled a group of kids and asked them if they’d rather be hanging out at the swimming pool with their friends or waiting at the cold bus stop at seven in the morning, it’s a pretty safe to guess they’ll pick the pool.


An astute poster on the website Quora wrote, “you say (goodbye) all the time, but you never know which one is the last.” It's pretty safe to assume you know why this word made it on our list. "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

If only

If only can be defined as “I wish that.” If only I had known you were coming, I would have met your plane.” This expression can also be one of wistful regret. “If only we had met 10 years ago.”

What might have been

What might have been is a phrase often tinged with regret. Many movies on Lifetime use this concept. “He gazed into the sunset for a brief moment and watched her vintage MG head off down the long dusty road. With a casual shrug, he turned around and headed back into the now empty and silent farmhouse, wondering what might have been.”


If you’re lonely, you are inherently sad. One (er, sadly) goes with the other. There’s no possible way to put a positive spin on this one. So, we’ll just leave it be.


The word love is evocative of a (mostly) positive and fulfilling emotion, and it has its own holiday every February. There is a flip side to the coin, however. If love is unrequited, it’s the worst, and that’s why it’s on this list.


We define melancholy as “a gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression.” As an example, think about Charlie Brown lying on the pitching mound after getting drilled with yet another line drive.


Terminal is never a good word when used in a medical context. It is another word to which it is nearly impossible to put a good spin.

Not sure what to say to someone who's just received a bad diagnosis? Try some helpful advice from this book:

What party?

The late Carrie Fisher said two of the saddest words in the English language were "what party?" The one you weren't invited to, it would seem.

Time for bed

Just like our earlier phrase back to school, this one will resonate with the elementary-school scene. Homework's done, and you've got a little latitude to stay up and watch TV. Around 8:40pm or so, though, you start doing a little clock watching. Tick tock. Then, right at the 8:51pm commercial break come those ominous words from the kitchen. "Honey, almost time for bed. . . ."


An interesting choice, no? We're not talking Mulder and Scully aliens, though. If someone is referred to as an alien, it means they are a foreigner . . . and, the implication is that they don't belong. Since everyone wants to feel like they fit in wherever they might be, the label of alien can be a hard cross to bear.


This word is tinged with perpetual runner-up status. Almost is defined as "very nearly, all but." She almost won the race. He almost scored an A on the test. They almost won the lottery. Alas, if almost is firmly lodged in your vocabulary, you may continuously be one step behind everyone else. There's always next time, right?


There is just nothing good to say about forlorn. (We're getting depressed just typing this.) "Desolate or dreary; unhappy or miserable . . . ." The meaning draws a pretty bleak picture. You're blue, down in the dumps, woebegone. That's a forlorn feeling, for sure.

Bad news

"I've got some bad news . . . ." That's a phrase that is always followed by sadness. "Bad news" can range from a variety of information, but regardless of the severity, the news that is given isn't going to make your day. If you hear this phrase uttered in your direction, get ready to navigate the upcoming dire straits.

And, what's more sad than bad animal news. Download the book below to read some these sad animal facts:

Too late

This phrase is generally colored with the brush of regret. "You're too late, you missed the deadline." "He was too late, she went with someone else." "It was too late for an apology." Or, even worse, "We were too late to stop him." Whatever the reason, too late means you are missing out on the fun, so pick up the speed!

No time

You could pair this with the previously stated "too late." You've run out of time. For what? To clean the house, to call your parents, to repair your relationship. "No time" is an easy out, a mindless way of defending no action. Want to turn your sad words into happy ones? There's time.

Feeling stressed because you've run out of time? Try these sad face stress balls, they're having a worse day than you, we promise.

We're from Corporate and we're here to help

A tip of the cap to the WeAreSC blog for this one. When "Corporate" (always in caps) decides to intervene in your daily routine at work, it's generally a sad thing. Despite their best intentions, their helpfulness is sure to throw a wrench in whatever you're working on. It's unfortunate, but they just don't know your job like you do. It's better to just put a smile on your face and wait until they're gone to clean up the mess.

No more ice cream

To anyone who has pried open the lid to the gallon of ice cream sitting in your freezer only to find an empty carton staring back, this phrase is one of the worst. Especially when you're raiding the fridge at three in the morning . . . .

We're from the Internal Revenue Service

"We're from the Internal Revenue Service . . ." is generally preceded by a knock on the door and is spoken by one or more men in dark suits and even darker sunglasses. (Think: Men In Black.) After having time to process this phrase, cue a queasy feeling in your stomach. The government usually plays for keeps.

Need a pick-me-up?

Are you feeling pretty down and out after that list? Need a pick-me-up? Check out our list of Verbal Pick-me-ups That Will Brighten Your Day to turn that frown upside down.

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