Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever heard somebody say the phrase “that’s too bad” in English?

Do you wonder if this is acceptable in certain situations with native speakers?

We’re going to show you how to use this phrase, when it may be appropriate, and how to figure out when it may be best used.

Today we have a listener question about this phrase “That’s too bad.”

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Hello ladies,

I am Miho Soga, one of your listeners from Japan.

I sent you questions before, and they were featured on your podcast. Thanks a lot for doing that!

 Today I have another question for you. How bad is the phrase “That’s too bad”?

A couple of years ago, I told my American friends “That’s too bad” when he told me something bad “happened to him. He responded “No, no, Miho. It’s TERRIBLE!”

Since then I have been wondering how bad is the phrase “That’s too bad.” Could you tell me your view about this?

Thank you very much!

It’s All About Showing Sympathy

This is all about expressing sympathy.

You want to show the person that you are talking to that you feel for them.

You might find this episode useful in this situation, but suffice it to say that it’s all about relating to somebody and being there for them.

Click here to learn more about the difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion.

Saying “that’s too bad” is like saying “that’s unfortunate” but less formal.

So you have to really think about the situation, who you are talking to and what they are going through, and then decide what may be right to say back to them.

Learning By Example

When you look at the example above, it’s a great way to explore what is acceptable to say.

In this particular situation, it may be that a couple of things happened.

1- Maybe the topic was REALLY awful– You really wouldn’t say that if someone died or if someone is very sick. That’s too bad to me is more for something slightly disappointing, but that you want to express disappointment in. It would work better for a situation where someone can’t come to a party or if someone has to return something to the store because it doesn’t fit.

2- Maybe it wasn’t that serious but the person is exaggerating. It’s possible that them saying that something was terrible may be to sound more extreme. Consider their tone and reaction to you so that you can decide what the right phrase is.

We don’t know based on the context, but the general rule of thumb is to use “that’s too bad” for things that aren’t THAT bad.

Remember that as with so many other things, it’s all about intonation.

The tone of voice that you use will put the other person at ease or offer your sympathy.

Handling A More Serious Situation

Sometimes simply saying “that’s too bad” isn’t enough.

What can you say if it’s more serious?

-I’m so sorry to hear that! – It could be either really serious or not and so it works quite well.

L: I lost my phone.

M: I’m so sorry to hear that!

M: My best friend got fired again.

L: I’m so sorry to hear that. Let me know if she needs any help networking.

What a shame! This could work well for both. It’s all about tone of voice especially with something like this phrase.

L: My dog died yesterday.

M: Oh what a shame. I know how much you loved him.

M: I burnt my pizza! Now I have to make another one.

L: What a shame! I’ll have the burnt one. I like burnt pizza.

How awfulThis tends to be used for the really bad type of situations. You may say this in a tragedy or a loss where something more serious is called for.

L: My house got flooded over the weekend.

M: How awful. Do you have insurance?

M: Lindsay my bags got stolen at the airport and I had my laptop in it.

L: How awful. Maybe the police found it.


You have to think about how you are expressing sympathy in English.

Think of the degree of the problem and whatever you do, don’t decide that someone’s issue is too big or too small.

This ultimately depends more on how THEY feel.

Do they seem very upset?

Then show your sympathy more!

If you are saying “too bad” it may be okay, but try to think of what you are dealing with and always use the right intonation.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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