Expressing Disappointment in English

Boy gazing sadly out of window.

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We try our best and hope that everyone gets along well. Unfortunately, that's not always the case and we need to express disappointment. We might be disappointed with other people, or with ourselves. At other times, we might want to express our view that something we expected didn't go as planned. For these situations, it's important to keep in mind the use of register when expressing our disappointment. In other words, who are we speaking to, what is the relationship, and how should you communicate with them? The phrases we use will be different depending on whether we are speaking with friends or at work. Use these phrases to express your disappointment in the appropriate way.

Expressing Disappointment and Frustration with Yourself

I wish I + Past Simple = Present Disappointments

The use of "I wish" with the past simple to express something you are disappointed with at the present time. This is similar to the use of the unreal conditional to express something imaginary.

  • I wish I had a better job.
  • I wish I had more time for my family.
  • I wish I spoke Italian.

I wish I + Past Perfect = Regrets about the Past

The use of "I wish" with the past perfect is used to express regret over something that happened in the past. This is similar to the use of the unreal past conditional to express a different result in the past.

  • I wish I had been hired for that job.
  • I wish I had worked harder in school.
  • I wish I had saved more money when I was young.

If only I + Past Simple = Present Disappointments

This form is used to express things we aren't happy about at the present. It is similar to the form above.

  • If only I played soccer well.
  • If only I understood math.
  • If only I had a faster car.

If only I + Past Perfect = Regrets about the Past

This form is used to express things regret about past experiences. It is similar to "wish + past perfect."

  • If only I had moved to this city earlier.
  • If only I had asked her to marry me.
  • If only I had known about that last year!

These forms can also be used to express disappointment with others:

  • I wish she had paid better attention in class.
  • I wish they asked me more questions. I'm sure I could be of more help.
  • If only they worked with us! We would give them a better deal than Smith and Co.
  • If only Peter had hired Tom. He was much better qualified for the job.

Expressing Disappointment with Others

Why didn't + S + Verb?

  • Why didn't you tell me that?!
  • Why didn't he inform me of the situation?
  • Why didn't they finish on time?

How am/was I supposed to + Verb

  • How am I supposed to complete the project?
  • How was I supposed to know that?!
  • How am I supposed to work with this?

Formal Expressions For Disappointment

  • What a shame!
  • That's too bad.
  • That's so disappointing!
  • I was so looking forward to ...
  • I / We had high hopes for ...
  • What we had been led to expect was ...

Informal Expressions For Disappointment

  • What a bummer!
  • What a let-down!
  • That stinks.

Role Play Exercise: Between Friends

  • Friend 1: I'm not happy.
    Friend 2: What's wrong?
  • Friend 1: Oh, I didn't get that job.
    Friend 2: What a bummer!
  • Friend 1: Yeah, I wish I had prepared better for the interview.
    Friend 2: Maybe you were just nervous.
  • Friend 1: If I had only thought about how my experience applied to the position.
    Friend 2: That stinks. Well, I'm sure you'll do better next time.
  • Friend 1: I hope so. I'm sick of this job.
    Friend 2: Every job has its ups and downs.
  • Friend 1: Isn't that the truth!
    Friend 2: Let's have a beer.
  • Friend 1: That's something that never disappoints.
    Friend 2: You're right about that.

Role Play Exercise: At the Office

  • Colleague 1: Excuse me, Peter. Could I talk to you for a moment?
    Colleague 2: Sure, what can I do for you?
  • Colleague 1: Why didn't you inform me of the situation with Andrew Ltd.?
    Colleague 2: I'm sorry about that. I thought I had the situation under control.
  • Colleague 1: You know I had high hopes for this account.
    Colleague 2: Yes, I know and I apologize that it didn't work out. 
  • Colleague 1: Yes, well, how were you supposed to know they would try to change everything in the contract.
    Colleague 2: If only they had given us more time to come up with a different solution.
  • Colleague 1: OK. Well, please make sure to keep me in the loop on future situations like this.
    Colleague 2: Certainly, I'll be more proactive next time this happens. 
  • Colleague 1: Thank you, Peter.
    Colleague 2: Of course. 
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Expressing Disappointment in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Expressing Disappointment in English. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Expressing Disappointment in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).