Learn How to Express Regret in English with These Unique Phrases

How do we talk about regret in English? In this post, you will find out how to express regret in English. Life might be too short to waste one’s time on regrets. Nevertheless, trust me, you won’t be regretful at reading this short article.

General ways to express regret

I regret

If you regret something, you might feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over it.  We usually use this one to talk about something that has happened or completed. ‘I regret’ is very common when articulating a loss or missed opportunity.


  • She immediately regretted her cruel words though she knew he would never forgive her for what she said.
  • Every night he looked at the sky full of stars. It made him regret the passing of his youth at the dock of Oldtown when he should’ve gone far east.

Be sorry about

It is very much similar to ‘I regret’. When you’re sorry about something, you feel sadness or disappointment in something that has happened or been done. (Which is literally what ‘I regret’ means if you haven’t noticed the pattern here). However, ‘regret’ is much more formal than ‘be sorry’.


  • Sansa was sorry about what happened at the Eyrie. Nevertheless, she must find a way out or everything will fail.
  • None of the women Tyrion spoke to was sorry about failing to meet the industry’s demands.

Feel/be repentant about

Let’s say you feel repentant about your academic records. It means that you’re feeling or expressing remorse or regret. You’re sorry about something. (In this case, it could be your academic records). If you’re feeling repentant, you are ready to apologise to someone about something you did wrong. (Your parent or whoever paying your tuition fee in this example).


  • President Trump is perfectly aware of the Democrats’ criticisms for him, but he surely does not feel repentant about it because, in his minds, he believes the border wall is important for the US’s security.
  • If Duke Leto Atreides truly is repentant about what he did, then his best course of action is to accept whatever punishment the Queen of England might have for him, no matter harsh it is, in a humble and quiet manner.

Feel sorrow at

Sorrow is a feeling of extreme sadness. It is, more often than not, an unbearable emotion. It’s like when one of the people you are close to suddenly passes away. All you have left of them is memories and photographs and stuffs like that. You will feel sorrow at the loss of everything about this person.


  • After their second divorce, Franz Kafka sent his ex-fiance, Felice Bauer, a letter a few days after the burning, which contained nothing showed that Kafka really felt sorrow at his behaviours.
  • She did not want to marry Jaime. Her heart desired Artys Arryn the winged knight. But she knew the wedding must go on – a wedding many at court felt sorrow at.

Pine over

If you ‘pine over someone or something’, it means you really desire or grieve over someone or something. You do so in a remarkably intense way. It might make you feel depressed or become unhappiness.


  • Your book failed, it’s over! You can’t just sit here and pinning over it forever. Get out there and try out something new for god’s sake!
  • What makes our generation differ from kids these days is the fact that we do not pine over new high technology devices like the iPhone XS or Airpods.

Should have

Yes, you can use a modal verb to express that you really regret at something or someone. No, I’m not joking. When you use ‘should have’, you mean that something did not happen, but you wish that it had happened. It would have been a good idea or beneficial to do, but you, sadly, did not do it. We often use this modal verb to discuss past mistakes. Nevertheless, you can also utilise ‘should have’ to give advice about the past when you talk to somebody else.


  • You should’ve seen Taylor’s face when she heard the announcement that she will not win any awards this year.
  • Yesterday I lost everything I have ever owned. Guess that I should have locked the backdoor in my house.

Conditional sentences – type III

This type of conditional sentence is prevalent when it comes to talking about the past and improbable situations. In other words, the situations in the sentence are in our imaginations impossible to achieve in the past that did not happen. Here’s how to express regret using its structure as below:

 If + past perfect + would + have + past participle


  • Had I studies harder, I would have got the presidential scholarship and mom wouldn’t have paid my extravagant tuition fee.
  • If I hadn’t eaten so many McSpicy Burgers from McDonald’s, I would not have been sick that I had to leave school for nearly a month.

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How to express regret using Wish and If only

In English, if you want to express regrets regarding something or someone, you can use one above. However, there’s still a couple of useful phrases and words left. They are ‘Wish’ and ‘If only’. They have their own section because we are able to use them to talk about the past, the present or the future. The only thing we need to do is to adjust their respective structures.

In general, if only means that the fact that you doing something simple would have made it possible to avoid something unpleasant. On the other hand, If you wish for something, you desire something or someone different from the one that you have right now. Hence, you can use both of them for the purpose of expressing regret

How to express regret in the past

When you talk about regret in the past, that means you’re talking about something that you know had already happened. We use ‘Wish’ and ‘If only’ to talk about regrets that we could not change in any way. Here’s how we use them to talk about the past.


If only + past perfect, would/could/might/… + have + past participle

Wish + past perfect


  • If only I had not stayed up so late the night before and missed the first flight home, I could have seen her face one last time before she’s gone to where her heart belongs.
  • I wish I had told him how I really felt about what had been going on between his mom and dad before he went to the court to hear them out.

How to express regret in the present

Regret in the present is technically a little bit different from in the past. Talking about regret in the past means talking about something that you know had already happened. You do not have the power or the resources to change it in any way. However, regret in the present means a glimpse of hope. You might have the chance to change it to what you desire. It usually hasn’t happened (yet), so you can afford a bit of optimism.

We can still use ‘Wish’ and ‘If only’ to talk about regret in the present. However, instead of using the past perfect tense, we will use the past simple one.


If only + past simple, would/could/might + verb

Wish + past simple


  • Nevertheless, if only I knew what was in store for us when we arrived there, we hadn’t lost so many men and women. In brief, they said it was for our causes which were probably nothing.
  • Hence, I wish I owned an apartment now. I have always enjoyed being alone and lying in bed doing nothing you know.

How to express regret in the future

When we talk about regret in the future, it’s usually not actually regret we are talking about. What we’re seeking to express in this particular situation is often a complaint. Native speakers use ‘wish’ and ‘if only’ to talk about things they dislike. Furthermore, you can use them to talk about things you want to change. Last but not least, your impatience with something can also be expressed using ‘wish’ and ‘if only’.

To use ‘wish’ and ‘if only’ in this sense, just add ‘would’ and the suitable verb and you’re all set!


If only + would + verb

wish + would + verb


  • I am always the last one to arrive at work. However, it’s not really my fault you know. For some reasons the train never runs on time. If only it would run on time just for once.
  • We’re experiencing the hottest summer in one hundred years. I wish it would bring the winds of winter right here.

How to learn English vocabulary in an effective way

Previously, I’ve mentioned some different ways a native speaker might use to express his/her regret at someone or something. In brief, they are ones that native speakers use in daily lives. Hence, if you’re interested in learning English vocabulary, you can try out the perfectly awesome eJOY eXtension. It’s an extension for the Google Chrome browser, developed by the eJOY team. With the eJOY eXtension, you are able to look up a word’s meanings as well as its pronunciations while you’re reading an English article online. You can even do that while watching a Youtube video. It’s unbelievably stunning, isn’t it? More extraordinarily, an eJOY eXtension’s user can save these words into his or her notebook. They can play games to remember these words for longer.

Here’s my proposed way of learning English vocabulary with the eJOY eXtension. You can consult it.

  • Install the eJOY eXtension for the Google Chrome browser.

Download the eJOY eXtension free here

  • Watch any video on eJOY GO, YouTube or Netflix.
  • Highlight any words you don’t know to look up its meanings and pronunciations. You can also tap the little blue ‘Add’ button to save it to your personal notebook.
  • The eJOY eXtension can help you save a word’s meaning in different contexts, not only the sole meanings.

How to express regret in English
Using the eJOY eXtension to look up words while watching Youtube video.

  • Every day, the eJOY eXtension will remind you to study new vocabulary through interesting interactive games.
  • Moreover, you can improve your English by using the Word Hunt feature by eJOY. eJOY users are able to utilise Word Hunt to search for video contexts that use the word you want to learn. You can read more about it here, in our new features article.
    • First, you need to go to the WordHunt website.
    • Then, you can type a word/ phrase you want to search for.
    • Third, tap the “Say it” button.
    • As a result, WordHunt will list all videos in eJOY’s library containing your word/ phrase in their subtitles.
    • Then, you can listen and practice (repeat) the different contexts in which the narrators used the word.
  • You can also use the eJOY eXtension instead of having to visit a website. Whenever you look up a word with eJOY eXtension, there will always be an orange button ‘Say It’. Be bold, tap on that, and guess where you’re going!

Let’s practice studying English! Remember to use these phrases to express regret to speak English like native speakers. Have anything to add? Comment in the section below.


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