Condole vs. Console

By Maeve Maddox

A reader has asked for clarification regarding the use of the verbs condole and console.

In searching for illustrations of current usage, I find that confusion between the words is more common in the writing of non-native English speakers, although native speakers do err with this pair.

Both verbs refer to expressions of sympathy and comfort. The corresponding nouns are condolence (most often in the plural) and consolation.

“To condole” is “to grieve with; to express sympathy with another in his affliction.”

Condole is usually followed by with:

We condoled with our friends over the loss of their parents.

The airline official condoled with the relatives of the crash victims.

Condole is used transitively when the object is death, as in formal expressions of sympathy:

Politicians unite to condole the death of APJ Abdul Kalam.

The US State Department yesterday released a press statement to condole the death of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.

Condole may also be used in an absolute sense:

The hall was filled with hundreds of mourners who had come to condole.

It seemed the entire village was there to condole.

“To console” is “to comfort in mental distress or depression; to alleviate the sorrow of (someone).”

Console is always transitive:

How do I console a friend who just lost his brother in a tragic accident? 

Prince Harry Reunites with His Former Teacher Who Consoled Him After His Mother Died

Here are some examples of the misuse of condole and console, with corrections:

INCORRECT: At a funeral you are greeted by many people that wish to console with you and it can be difficult to thank all those who were there for you throughout your difficult time.
CORRECT : At a funeral you are greeted by many people who wish to console you and it can be difficult to thank all those who were there for you throughout your difficult time.

Console is transitive. It is not followed by a prepositional phrase like “with you.”

INCORRECT: I just really wanted to come here, talk to the family and condole the family, let them know there are other people out here worrying about them.
CORRECT : I just really wanted to come here, talk to the family and console the family, let them know there are other people out here worrying about them.

One “condoles a death,” but “consoles the family.”

INCORRECT: He said that no amount material assistance could undo the loss of life, however, it was a gesture to console with the families of the victims.
CORRECT : He said that no amount material assistance could undo the loss of life, however, it was a gesture to condole with the families of the victims.

“Console the families” would also be correct.

INCORRECT: At this sad moment, we pray that his bereaved family gets the strength to console with the irreparable loss they are facing.

Neither condole nor console works in this sentence. The solution is to change console to another word altogether:

CORRECT: At this sad moment, we pray that his bereaved family gets the strength to cope with the irreparable loss they are facing.

cope: deal competently with a situation.

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