How to write a letter of condolence

Letters bring us business, they bring us problems and they sometimes bring us to the verge of despair! The kind of letters in this last category  are the difficult letters – the ones about problems, the complaints, answers to complaints, reprimands and so on. These kinds of letters are difficult in your own language. Writing them in English is an additional challenge.

The special edition of Secretary Today, Writing Difficult Letters, tells you what to say in these and similar challenging letters. It gives you general tips for writing difficult letters and then looks at seven different areas where they are needed:

  1. Complaints
  2. Responses to complaints
  3. Rejections and refusals
  4. Apologies
  5. Warnings
  6. Collection letters
  7. Letters of condolence

It points out the particular challenge in each case and gives you templates for those difficult letters. Of course, many of these texts can also be used for emails, so long as email is an appropriate form of communication in the given situation.

Today I pick out callenge no. 7 – Letters of condolence

The challenge
These are arguably the most difficult letters to write. There are no set patterns, since a lot depends on the kind of relationship the writer has with the recipient.

The solution
As a general rule, letters of condolence should be short and written with sincerity. If possible, they should be hand-written. Avoid spiritual or philosophical comments unless you are absolutely sure they will be welcome. Write as soon as you have heard the news.

Letter of condolence no. 1

To a customer or client

Dear Mr Willis

With deep regret, I have just heard of the death of your wife.

There is very little one can say at a time like this, but all of us would like to extend our sincere sympathy at your loss.

Please include us among those who share your sorrow at this sad time.

Yours sincerely

Perfekte britische und amerikanische Korrespondenz, Gespräche, Telefonate, Geschäftsbesuche und sicherer Small Talk. Fordern Sie Secretary Today zum kostenlosen 30-Tage-Test an – klicken Sie hier!

Letter of condolence no. 2

To a member of the Board of Directors at a company where the CEO has died

Dear Tom

We were distressed to read in The Times this morning that your CEO has died. I am writing to express our deep sympathy.

I had the privilege of knowing Andrew for many years and always regarded him as a friend. By his untimely passing our industry has lost one of its best leaders. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Please convey our sympathy to the rest of the Board members.

Yours sincerely

Letter of condolence no. 3

To the son of a former employee who has died

Dear Joseph

I was very sorry to learn of your father’s death.

I remember your father well from the years he served at our school until his retirement three years ago. I well recall the sense of pride with which he always spoke of his sons.

Your father will be greatly missed by all those staff who worked with him at St. Steven’s School, and we all join in expressing our sympathy to you and your family.

Yours sincerely

More examples to start your letter of condolence


  • I was so sorry to hear of the death of your wife after her long and courageous battle with cancer. Her death touches me deeply. She was …
  • I have just heard that your husband has passed away, and am deeply saddened by the news. I knew him as …
  • It is with great sorrow that we learned of the death of …

Frischen Sie jetzt regelmäßig Ihr Englisch auf. Egal, ob Sie Englisch-Anfängerin oder Englisch-Profi sind. Secretary Today - Professionelles Business English für Sekretärinnen und Assistentinnen. Jetzt 1 Ausgabe kostenlos testen!

to be on the verge of 
am Rande der
Verzweiflung sein
reprimand Tadel 
collection letters Mahnungen 
arguably wohl, zweifellos 
set pattern vorgegebenes Muster 
sincerity Aufrichtigkeit 
to avoid vermeiden 
regret Bedauern 
to extend sincere
jmdm. sein aufrichtiges
Beileid aussprechen 
distressed erschüttert 
Board Vorstand, Aufsichtsrat 
retirement Ruhestand 
appropriate geeignet 
to look sth. over etw. durchsehen 
draft Entwurf