I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty)

by Kate Woodford

Diane Caudill/EyeEm/Getty
Diane Caudill/EyeEm/Getty

From time to time, we all do things that upset other people and we regret it. In other words, we all suffer from guilt.

Guilt is, of course, a bad feeling and one of the ways that we try to get it out of our system (= get rid of it) is to tell others about what we have done and how bad we feel. This week we’re looking at the words and phrases that we use to talk about feeling guilty.

One of the most common ways to describe feeling guilty is the simple phrase to feel bad:

I felt bad because I knew I’d let them down.

Knowing how much I hurt her makes me feel really bad.

Looking now at the adjectives that we use to describe this feeling, ashamed means feeling guilty and also embarrassed about something bad that we have done:

I felt so ashamed when I saw how upset she was.

He looked rather ashamed.

Two more formal adjectives that mean ‘feeling guilty’ are repentant and contrite:

He was very repentant when I confronted him with the issue.

The next morning, she was contrite and anxious to please.

Meanwhile, two adjectives that describe the manner or appearance of someone who knows that they have done something bad are shamefaced and sheepish.  A person who is shamefaced shows from their expression that they feel guilty:

Later in the day he came to see me, somewhat shamefaced.

A sheepish smile or grin is slightly apologetic and embarrassed:

He gave me a sheepish smile and apologised.

Two phrases that are used to describe someone who feels very guilty, (often over a long period) are guilt-ridden and conscience-stricken:

He would spend his later years guilt-ridden over his neglect of his children.

Conscience-stricken, she confessed to taking the money.

The word conscience features in a number of other phrases that are used to describe feeling guilty. (Your conscience is the part of you that judges how good or bad your actions are.) If something you have done is on your conscience or weighs on your conscience, it makes you feel guilty:

I was quite unkind to her and it’s been on my conscience ever since.

If you have a guilty conscience, you feel bad about something wrong that you have done:

If I’m honest, I didn’t treat him so well and I have a guilty conscience about it.

Finally, something that pricks your conscience makes you feel guilty about something that you have done and causes you to do something that makes you then feel better:

You mentioning Sheila yesterday pricked my conscience and I finally called her.

Here’s hoping you have a good week and that your conscience is clear (= you do not feel guilty about anything)!

26 thoughts on “I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty)

  1. Enrica

    It is always amazing to read your blogs. I would never stop reading them, even the ones i have already read!
    Many thanks.

  2. Chirag

    Thank you for yet another article!
    i just wanted to ask something
    As you have mentioned ‘feel bad’
    I have seen people using ‘feel bad’ when they come across something sombre of an event while having a conversation. for instance, “i feel bad for your loss”
    i mean, is it particularly used when you have done something wrong on your part
    OR it can also be used when it is the Situation that you feel bad about even though you haven’t done anything that could upset others

  3. Kate Woodford

    Hello, Chirag. Yes, that’s right. You might hear someone say ‘I feel bad for x’ even though they have done nothing to cause x’s problems. In that situation, it simply means ‘I feel sympathy for x’. A useful phrase, then! Best wishes!

  4. Nifras Thahir

    Hello Kate,

    This is a fabulous post. Thanks a million!

    But something looks a bit wayward in the penultimate sentence of your post: “You [sic] mentioning Sheila yesterday pricked my conscience and I finally called her.” – I get an impression that it would have been meant as “Your mentioning …”.

    Thank you.

  5. Robert Richter

    More and more, people say they feel “badly” not understanding the difference between adjective and adverb. These are presumably educated people (e.g., paid to speak on TV).

  6. Pingback: I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty) | Editorials Today

  7. Willie

    Unfortunately most individuals judge their daily experiences as good or bad, these words are out side the realm of feelings. The feeling that coincide with guilt are fear, hurt, sadness and anger.

  8. KV Prasanna Kumar

    Thank you Kate Woodford for your wonderful blogs. Really educational and helpful. I wish I could follow you on facebook.

  9. Pingback: I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty) – shukrimahmoodmohamed

  10. Ratnayake From Sri Lanka

    I really feel “ashamed” myself about not knowing and not using these creative ways of saying that feeling bad about overselves over something or someone. Again , my hat is off for making us eqipped with the armour of words ……..

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