What is an appropriate translation for the word "alas" in the following sentence: "Alas, I am not available until a future date".

I have seen two expressions, Hélas, and malheureusement (which I understand to mean sadly).

I want to fully encompass the richness and the somewhat humorous grief that it has come to express in English.

1 Answer 1


Neither English, nor French native but I believe that hélas is the counterpart of "alas". wiktionary says

From Old French elas, variant of a las, from a (“ah”) + las, from Latin lassus (“weary”).

I believe thus that English "alas" and French hélas are like brother and sister. For further examples see here:


I would translate your sentence as:

Hélas, je ne serai pas disponible avant une date ultérieure.


1) Based on @aCOSwt's comment:

They (i.e. alas and hélas) are not exactly as brother and sister. Alas cannot be used as a noun while hélas can be used as a noun (since the XVth century).

2) Based on @D. Ben Knoble's comment:

Hélas seems in more current usage in France than alas does in (American) English.

3) Extension of (2); comparison of alas and hélas frequency:


American English (even lower)





In the Greek language there is the world pheû. It means hélas. It would be interesting to see any connection between the etymology of hélas and the pheû.

  • You are correct. Apart from your like brother and sister... What they are not exactly. As far as I know, Alas cannot be used as a noun while Hélas can be used as a noun since the XVth century.
    – MC68020
    Oct 22, 2018 at 20:41
  • Also, hélas seems in more current usage in France than alas does in American English Oct 22, 2018 at 20:58
  • 2
    @aCOSwt do you have an example of "hélas" used as a noun ? For me it is primarily an interjection and its use like a noun is more like an exception.
    – radouxju
    Oct 23, 2018 at 9:09
  • 2
    @radouxju : You are correct : Hélas! is indeed primarily an interjection. However, quoting phrases like "Il fit de grands hélas. Voyez le bel hélas." The Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française , (5th-8th editions) states that *"Il s'emploie quelquefois, familièrement, comme substantif." You can also view the frequency of such usage here : books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – MC68020
    Oct 23, 2018 at 9:39

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