12 Better Words For “Unfortunately” In Formal Emails

“Unfortunately” is a word we use to preface bad news or bad luck. While there’s nothing wrong with saying “unfortunately,” it may not always be the best choice for formal emails. In this article, we’re going to go over some useful alternatives to “unfortunately.”

What Can I Write Instead Of “Unfortunately” In Formal Emails?

There are a lot of ways to preface bad news in English. Here are the words and phrases we’ll be exploring in this article:

  • As it turns out
  • Regrettably
  • Sadly
  • I’m sorry to say
  • I’m sad to say
  • However
  • I’m afraid
  • I regret to inform you
  • For reasons beyond our control
  • Luckily
  • Fortunately
  • Due to unforeseen circumstances
Better Words For Unfortunately In Formal Emails

The preferred option is “as it turns out.” “As it turns out” is neutral; it’s neither inherently positive nor inherently negative. This can help to soften any bad news or help to avoid making any sort of judgment call on the news.

As It Turns Out

“As it turns out” is a phrase you use when the outcome is different than what was expected. The outcome isn’t necessarily good or bad, just different.

One potential weakness with “unfortunately” is that it’s negative. Using negative language risks someone feeling more negatively about the outcome of a situation than they might otherwise.

Additionally, “unfortunately” is making a judgment call that the unexpected outcome is also unwanted. It’s “unfortunate.”

“As it turns out” avoids both of these issues.

Here’s how you can use “as it turns out” in formal contexts:

  • Mrs. O’Neil,
  • I’ve looked into your issue. As it turns out, we can’t offer refunds on items beyond 90 days.
  • John,
  • As it turns out, I don’t have access to the files you’re requesting. I’ve forwarded your issue to my superiors.


“Regrettably” is is a good replacement for “unfortunately” when you want to emphasize that you feel sorry about the outcome. Additionally, “regrettably” is more formal than “unfortunately,” making it more appropriate in some contexts.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “regrettably” as “in a way that makes you feel sad or sorry about something.”

Unlike “unfortunately,” “regrettably” is considered to be exclusively formal language.

Here are some ways you can use “regrettably”:

  • Dear Mr. Wright,
  • Thank you for your inquiry. Regrettably, the school district has significantly reduced funding for school lunches, so we’re unable to provide a gluten-free option for your child.
  • Ms. Jessica State,
  • Fraudulent transactions have regrettably increased, so there will be a slight delight in processing your claim.


“Sadly” emphasizes the unhappiness associated with the outcome. “Sadly” literally describes an emotion, it isn’t exclusively used as an emotional word.

According to The Cambridge Dictionary, “sadly” means “in an unhappy way.”

While “sadly” is often used in emotional contexts, it can also be used in neutral contexts.

In neutral contexts, it has the same basic meaning as “unfortunately” without much emphasis on the sadness involved.

Here are some examples:

  • Staff,
  • Sadly, this year’s staff retreat will need to be canceled.
  • Dear Mr. Baum,
  • Sadly, we must report that there has been no change to your mother’s condition.

I’m Sorry To Say

“I’m sorry to say” is a good phrase to use when you want to express your sympathy about a situation.

A lot of formal writing, especially in professional and academic settings, tries to be as impersonal as possible. As such, most formal writing avoids “I” statements.

Although “I’m sorry to say” is an “I” statement, it’s still a phrase you’re likely to see in formal settings.

Here are some examples:

  • Lisa,
  • I’m sorry to say the data still isn’t quite matching up.
  • Mrs. Klein,
  • I’m sorry to say we still have been unable to locate your paper.

I’m Sad To Say

“I’m sad to say” emphasizes your unhappiness with the situation. Like “I’m sorry to say,” it’s a good way to professionally extend your sympathies.

Here’s what “I’m sad to say” might look like in professional emails:

  • Dr. Jones,
  • I’m sad to say we were unable to rescue your samples from the fire in the lab.
  • Leonard,
  • I’m sad to say the state has rejected your application, as we’re still missing some paperwork.


“However” can be used to fully or partially negate the statement that comes before it. It’s like saying “but” or “on the other hand.” It can replace “unfortunately” when introducing a negative aspect to a potentially positive idea.

In The Cambridge Dictionary “however” in this context is defined as “despite this.”

Here’s how you can use “however” to replace “unfortunately”:

  • Ms. Barnes,
  • It’s true that you submitted the paperwork on time. However, the paperwork was incomplete.
  • Dr. Mbatha,
  • You were cleared to begin the experiment in your requested timeframe. However, issues in the lab have forced us to move your start date.

I’m Afraid

“I’m afraid” is a common phrase used to preface or soften potentially bad news.

When used in this way “afraid” doesn’t mean “scared.” It’s more like saying “sorry.”

Like “unfortunately,” “I’m afraid” can be used in both formal and informal situations.

Here are some examples:

  • Mr. Baird,
  • I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood the assignment. Come speak with me sometime today so we can decide whether you need to start over.
  • Ms. Kinsley,
  • I’m afraid we’ll need to terminate our contract, effective immediately.

I Regret To Inform You

“I regret to inform you” is an exclusively formal introduction used to communicate sympathy for a poor outcome. It’s more formal than “unfortunately” and can be used in even the most formal settings.

The “I” in this phrase is sometimes replaced with “we.” “We regret to inform you” is typically used with the writer must speak on behalf of a company or organization.

Here are some ways you can use “I regret to inform you”:

  • Dear K. Burns,
  • I regret to inform you that your application has been rejected.
  • Dr. Pavus,
  • We regret to inform you that we will not be allocating funds to your project at this time.

For Reasons Beyond Our Control

“For reasons beyond our control” is a phrase you can use when there’s been bad luck. For whatever reason, the addressee has a poor outcome and it is neither their fault nor your fault.

This is a neutral phrase. While it prefaces bad news, it doesn’t endeavor to apologize or sympathize.

Here are some examples:

  • Mr. Cross,
  • For reasons beyond our control we no longer have the files you are requesting.
  • Dear Jenny Bird,
  • For reasons beyond our control, your application has been deleted from our system.


You can use “luckily” in place of “unfortunately” when you want to try and spin a positive out of an unfortunate situation. Luckily is not exclusively formal, but can be used in formal settings.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “luckily” as “because of good luck.” As such, after giving bad news you can use “luckily” to try and find a silver lining in the situation.

For example, you might say: “Unfortunately we’re out of stock.” To pull a positive from that situation you could rephrase it as “We’re out of stock. Luckily, we have a similar item on sale.”

Here are some more examples:

  • Mr. Green,
  • The damage to your vehicle is too great to repair. Luckily, your insurance is willing to pay for a new vehicle.
  • Ms. Luthy,
  • We are unable to replace your credit card in person. Luckily, you qualify for expedited shipping.


“Fortunately” follows the same logic as “luckily.” You can use “fortunately” to try and make part of a negative situation seem positive.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “fortunately” as “happening because of good luck.”

“Fortunately” is a bit more formal than “luckily.” While both can be appropriate in formal writing, “fortunately” is a better choice for higher levels of formality.

Here are some ways you can use “fortunately” in place of “unfortunately”:

  • Mr. Bean,
  • We have to cancel your event. Fortunately, we’ll be able to offer you a partial refund.
  • Mrs. Lane,
  • Your article has been pushed from the featured spot. Fortunately, we can still offer you the featured rate.

Due To Unforeseen Circumstances

“Due to unforeseen circumstances” can preface bad news in formal writing. Like “for reasons beyond our control” it shifts blame away from the primary parties involved.

Here are some examples:

  • Applicant,
  • Due to unforeseen circumstances, we’ve had to make the tough decision to cancel this year’s contest.
  • Dear Ms. Bailey,
  • Due to unforeseen circumstances we are no longer able to offer the service you requested.

Is “Unfortunately” Formal Or Informal?

“Unfortunately” is not considered to be exclusively formal or informal language.

In general, formal language is used when you don’t know the audience personally. Formal language is typically favored in academic and professional settings.

Informal language is the sort of language you would use with friends. It’s more relaxed and tends to use less complex sentence constructions.

“Unfortunately” can be used in both of these contexts. However, words that straddle formal and informal language like this tend to feel less formal than exclusively formal words.

For example,” regrettably” is exclusively formal language. Although “unfortunately” can be used in the same formal contexts, it feels less formal than “regrettably” does.