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I hear both 残念ながら and 残念なことに when expressing that something was unfortunate before the actual sentence, much like the English "Unfortunately, ...".

However, I'm not sure on where these two phrases differ. Is their usage the same?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I believe the difference is:

In 残念ながら the focus is on the speaker's feeling while they tell you the information. It's like saying "I'm sorry to have to tell you, but..." The speaker's feeling of disappointment exists alongside the information.

In 残念なことに, the focus is on the thing the speaker is telling you, and is a cause of the disappointment. It's like saying "What's particularly disappointing is..." The speaker's disappointment comes from the information.

残念ながら、あなたと別れる。 (It's sad, but I'm going to break up with you.)

残念なことに、結婚しようかなと思っていた。 (What's sad is, I thought we maybe could have married.)

These two examples are subtley different. In the in the first case, you are being told that a breakup will happen, despite the fact the speaker is sad about it. In the second case, you are being given a fact which is itself a cause of disappointment.

Hope that helps.

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「あなたと仲違いしている」sounds wrong to me. I feel like 「縁を切る/断つ/絶つ」or 「別れる」would be better. –  istrasci Aug 19 '11 at 15:03
    
別れる is by far the most normal. I just came across the word 仲違い recently and thought I'd run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. I may edit it out if it's considered too out there. –  Dave M G Aug 19 '11 at 17:11
    
別れている does not mean "am breaking up with you", it means "have broken up with you". ている for change-of-state verbs expresses then completed state. –  dainichi Jun 15 '12 at 5:21
    
@dainichi: I've edited to hopefully correct it. Better? –  Dave M G Jun 15 '12 at 6:19

To me, the two are nigh identical. With 残念ながら ever so slightly less formal-sounding (and more common) than 残念なことに...

According to this site:

たまたまこの文の場合は、文頭に来る「~ことに」と逆接になる「~ながら」の「~」のところに「残念」という言葉が来ているので、似た用法となっていますね。

Which I roughly interpret as 「〜ことに」giving more surprise/contradiction (but I must admit I'm not all that clear and could be wholly mistranslating that one... anybody care to confirm/infirm?).

At any rate, grammar is slightly different:

  • 残念なことに、抜かなければならない歯は、このような歯です。

  • 残念ながら  抜くことになる歯は    このような歯です。

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I agree with Dave that the two seem very close. If we look at the core definitions, we can see this:

〜ながら: "while 〜"

Although we usually stick this on the end of the verb stem (食べながら、見ながら、など), it can retain the same meaning in English here.

  • 残念ながら、... → "While it's unfortunate, (here's the truth of it) ..."

(emotion/feeling word) + ことに(は): "Very 〜", "To my 〜"

  • おどろいたことに → "To my surprise" / "Surprisingly"
  • 嬉しいことに → "Very happily"
  • 残念なことに → "Very unfortunately" / "To my disappointment"
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