The application of the Kutta condition to unsteady flows has been controversial over the years, with increased research activities over the 1970s and 1980s. This dissatisfaction with the Kutta condition has been recently rejuvenated with the increased interest in low-Reynolds-number, high-frequency bio-inspired flight. However, there is no convincing alternative to the Kutta condition, even though it is not mathematically derived. Realizing that the lift generation and vorticity production are essentially viscous processes, we provide a viscous extension of the classical theory of unsteady aerodynamics by relaxing the Kutta condition. We introduce a trailing-edge singularity term in the pressure distribution and determine its strength by using the triple-deck viscous boundary layer theory. Based on the extended theory, we develop (for the first time) a theoretical viscous (Reynolds-number-dependent) extension of the Theodorsen lift frequency response function. It is found that viscosity induces more phase lag to the Theodorsen function particularly at high frequencies and low Reynolds numbers. The obtained theoretical results are validated against numerical laminar simulations of Navier–Stokes equations over a sinusoidally pitching NACA 0012 at low Reynolds numbers and using Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes equations at relatively high Reynolds numbers. The physics behind the observed viscosity-induced lag is discussed in relation to wake viscous damping, circulation development and the Kutta condition. Also, the viscous contribution to the lift is shown to significantly decrease the virtual mass, particularly at high frequencies and Reynolds numbers.