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How to Express Regret in English



Regret means to feel bad, sad, or sorry about your behavior or actions in the past. We can feel regret about things we did and things we did not do.
  • I regret going to the party. It was not fun.
  • I regret not going to the party. I heard it was fun.
Everybody experiences regret. Some of us feel regret on a regular basis, so it is important to know how to express regret in English.

Before we learn how to express regret, remember that we can have big regrets and small regrets. We use these sentences for major things as well as trivial things.

Some examples of major regrets could be:
  • I regret not marrying her.
  • I should have quit smoking a long time ago.
Some trivial regrets could be things like:
  • I should have ordered a hamburger like you. This salad is not delicious.
  • I regret eating that cookie. I'm going to gain weight.
Now, let's see some different ways that we can express regret. All of these are very common in spoken and written English.

1. I should have + past participle / I shouldn't have + past participle
  • I should have called you. I am sorry.
  • I should have gone to bed earlier last night. I am so tired today.
  • We shouldn't have bought this house. It is too big for us.
  • I shouldn't have said that. I am sorry.
Note: This only expresses regret when used with the subjects "I" or "We". With other subjects, this sentence pattern shows that the speaker thinks the other person made a mistake. For example, "He shouldn't have quit his job. Why did he do that?".

2. I wish (that) I had + past participle / I wish (that) I hadn't + past participle
  • I wish I had studied English harder when I was young.
  • He wishes I had married her.
  • I wish that I hadn't bought this stock.
  • We wish that we hadn't moved to Los Angeles. We miss New York.
3. I regret + gerund / I regret not + gerund
  • I regret ordering this.
  • She regrets opening a coffee shop.
  • They regret not practicing hard.
  • We regret not telling you the truth.
If a person no longer feels regret, then we could use "regret" in the past tense.
  • She regretted buying the shirt, but now she likes it.
  • At first, we regretted moving to Los Angeles, but it is growing on me.
4. If only I had + past participle / If only I hadn't + past participle
  • If only I had listened to my mother's advice.
  • If only we hadn't invited him, the party would have been perfect.
Note: This only expresses regret when used with the subjects "I" or "We". With other subjects, this sentence pattern shows that the speaker thinks the other person made a mistake. For example, "If only he had married her, his life would be so much better."

This free English lesson can help you become a natural English speaker. There are certain situations when the language that you learned in this English lesson can be very useful. Try to use one of these phrases or expressions the next time you speak English.

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