How to Say “Unfortunately” in a Professional Email

You want to share some unfortunate news with the recipient of your email. But is the term unfortunately the right way to preface such a message?

In this article, we’ll discuss the correctness of this term. Thereafter, we’ll show you 10 alternative ways to express sorrow or regret in a professional email.

Is It Correct to Say “Unfortunately”?

It is perfectly correct to use the word unfortunately in a professional email. In general, we use this term to introduce bad news or information.

Unfortunately is neither particularly formal nor informal. Therefore, it would be suitable to use it in a work setting, whatever the size or nature of your organization.

Thus, let’s see two email examples illustrating how you can use this phrase in practice.

First, we’ll look at an informal email to a colleague:

Hi Kim,

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back from the client.

I’ll let you know the moment I do.

All the best,

Next, let’s see a slightly more formal email to a client:

Dear Mr. Hartwell,

Most unfortunately, Mr. Breene has left our offices for health reasons.

I would be happy to assist you with this matter myself.

Kind regards,
Ofentse Tau

Finally, let’s see how best to punctuate a sentence that includes the term unfortunately:

Variation: Comma after unfortunately

  • Correct: Unfortunately I cannot provide that information.
  • Correct: Unfortunately, I cannot provide that information.

Placing a comma after unfortunately is the most technically correct way to use this phrase in a sentence.

However, in practice, whether one chooses to add a comma is generally a matter of style and depends on where they would like the emphasis to be in their sentence.

Although unfortunately is perfectly correct, it may begin to feel rather standardized if you use it too frequently.

In addition, there are a few more formal alternatives that you can use in your professional emails.

Therefore, to add some variety to your work correspondence, you can try one or more of the phrases from our list.

10 Alternative Ways to Say “Unfortunately”

Below, you’ll find 10 examples of what to say instead of unfortunately in an email:

  • Regrettably
  • Sadly
  • I regret to inform you
  • Woefully
  • I’m afraid
  • For reasons beyond our control
  • Alas
  • Unluckily
  • I’m sad to say
  • It is with a heavy heart

1. Regrettably

Regrettably is a better way to say unfortunately in a formal email to a client.

This term is most appropriate if you are imparting bad or disappointing news and want to show that you regret letting the client down.

As this phrase is rather tonally neutral, it is a safe choice when you are responding to a query or complaint from a new client.

To see what we mean, have a look at the sample email below:

Dear Miss Colette,

Regrettably, we are unable to offer free consultations to clients outside of our county.

I have provided a document setting out our fees below.

Kind regards,
Morgan Werter

2. Sadly

You can preface some bad news with sadly if you want to come across as more sincere in an email.

This term is suitable for an email to a colleague. Although it may appear more emotive than unfortunately at first glance, it is actually very tonally similar to the original phrase.

Thus, it is safe to use when speaking to a coworker that you don’t know very well.

Check out the following email sample:

Dear Troy,

Sadly, my schedule is completely full this afternoon.

I would be happy to set aside an hour tomorrow to assist you.


3. I Regret to Inform You

If you work in a customer service position and have to share some bad news with a customer, you can preface it with the phrase I regret to inform you.

This phrase is very formal and respectful. Therefore, you can use it to issue a warning or any other pertinent information to a long-term customer without coming across as overly familiar.

For example:

Dear Mr. Weston,

I regret to inform you that your account has been suspended due to a breach of our fair use policies.

You have 18 days to appeal this decision.

Amber from [Company Name]

4. Woefully

The word woefully has slightly different connotations than unfortunately. Namely, this phrase is often used to imply that a bad situation is extreme.

Nevertheless, it can still be used as a synonym for unfortunately in a number of circumstances.

In addition, it comes across as formal enough for an email to your boss or another superior.

Therefore, you can use it to report that something has gone awry at work.

See how we’ve used this phrase in a sample email:

Dear Ms. Tantawi,

Due to interruptions last week, our trainees are woefully unprepared for a presentation of this nature.

Janine Gordon

5. I’m Afraid

You can use the phrase I’m afraid to politely let another person know that the information you are sharing may upset, anger, or disappoint them.

This phrase is suitably formal for any circumstance. Therefore, you can use it when speaking to a client or a superior.

Let’s see is in an email example:

Dear Mr. Garner,

I’m afraid the venue is of limited capacity, so an additional 100 guests would not meet the legal parameters set by the event planners.

Abigail Letterman

6. For Reasons Beyond Our Control

For reasons beyond our control is another professional way to say unfortunately in business emails to clients or customers.

Essentially, you can use this phrase to let a customer know that something has gone wrong without accepting blame on behalf of your company.

After all, the use of “our” implies that you are speaking for your entire team.

Have a look at the email sample below:

Dear Miss Ashley,

For reasons beyond our control, this year’s conference has been canceled until further notice.

Ernest Lloyd

7. Alas

Alas is an interjection that you can use to express unhappiness or concern.

It is essentially a more old-fashioned synonym for unfortunately. Thus, you can use it at the start of a sentence where you are sharing bad news.

If you are looking for how to say unfortunately in a positive way, you can use this old-timey phrase with an ironic and tongue-in-cheek tone.

This will let the other person know that you are moderately disappointed about the information you are sharing but that it is not the end of the world.

This phrase would look a bit strange in a modern professional email. However, you could use it in a friendly and casual email to a colleague you are close to.

For instance:

Hi Paula,

Alas, I will be stuck in a meeting with the IT department this afternoon.

You’ll have to go on without me!


8. Unluckily

You can use unluckily instead of unfortunately if an issue you are facing is not particularly dire.

This phrase comes across as a touch less formal than the original phrase and isn’t a popular choice for formal or professional emails.

Therefore, we wouldn’t recommend this one if you are speaking to a client or superior. However, you could use it in a more casual email to a colleague, especially if the two of you have a friendly dynamic.

Check out the email example below:

Hi Jane,

Unluckily, I have been assigned to the Forlone case and will have to do some research this afternoon.

I’ll meet you tomorrow afternoon instead.

All the best,

9. I’m Sad to Say

I’m sad to say is rather personal and emotive. Therefore, you might use this phrase if you run a small business and have a more sincere rapport with your customers or clientele.

When you impart bad news to long-term clients, you can express your regret openly and honestly.

After all, you are likely to have strong interpersonal relationships with your frequent clients, meaning there is less need to sound neutral in your emails.

Let’s see this phrase in our final email sample:

Dear Valued Customers,

I’m sad to say that the bakery will remain closed due to a problem with the recent construction.

If you would like to continue to support my business, please place your orders on my website for delivery.

All the best,
Lisa Jenning

10. It Is With a Heavy Heart

A different way to say unfortunately in a work email to your employees is to begin a statement with it is with a heavy heart.

You can use this phrase in an announcement to your team when you are imparting bad news to signify the importance of the message and the sadness you feel in sharing it.

For instance:

Dear Team,

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce my resignation as your manager.

It has been a pleasure to work with each of you, and I wish you and this esteemed organization the best.

Emmanuel Tulle

Kahlan House