We all make mistakes and learning how to say sorry in English (or any language) can be extraordinarily (very) helpful. From bumping into someone accidentally on the street, to what you could say to a friend, or what you could say if you offend someone (although we hope this doesn’t happen), here are some ways you can say sorry in English!
“I’m sorry” is a good, quick way to apologize to someone if you happen to bump into them (lightly touch someone) or if you have made a mistake. It’s not too serious, as in you haven’t offended (insulted, hurt their feelings) them, but it’s enough of a recognition (showing something was noticed) that you made a mistake and would like to correct it.
“I’m sorry” is a generic (common, general) way to say sorry, so you can say it to anyone in any situation.
I would only say “sorry” (without the “I’m” in front) to someone I knew well, and/or if I had only made a small slip up. It’s very quick and informal, but if said in the wrong situation or with the wrong tone (for example, if you had made a big mistake), it could make the apology sound insincere (not genuine, not true) and possibly get you in even more trouble.
If you’re not sure whether to use “sorry” or “I’m sorry” in a situation, always go for “I’m sorry.” It’s much less likely to come off as disingenuous (insincere).
“I apologize” is usually only used to say sorry in formal situations. You may hear it if a company spokesperson (representative, head voice) is apologizing to their customers for a delay saying, “We apologize…” If you need to say you are sorry to someone more senior (higher in position) than you, like your boss, I would also use “I apologize.”
Saying “I apologize” can also be used when you’re trying to express that you’re deeply sorry about a situation.
I beg your pardon / Excuse me
“I beg your pardon” and “Excuse me” can be used in a few situations to say you’re sorry in English. First, you can say this if you bump into someone in a store. It can also be said if you didn’t hear someone the first time they said something and you would like them to repeat (say again) themselves.
There isn’t much difference between the two except that “I beg your pardon” is more formal than “excuse me.” The situations they’re used in are the same, but if you’re not sure whether you should be formal with someone or not, it’s always best to err on the side of caution (be on the careful side) and be a little more formal.
Please forgive me
“Please forgive me” should only be used when you’ve done something really wrong and feel very bad about it. It’s not an apology to be thrown around lightly, because in this situation, you’re really, truly looking for someone’s forgiveness (when someone accepts your apology).
Hopefully this is a phrase you never have to use!
“My bad” is extremely informal and slangy (spoken dialect, not formal language), and you’ll usually only hear it among young people who are close friends. It may be said if someone bumps into someone else, or makes a poorly-timed joke.
If someone in an official position were to say “my bad,” it would most likely cause a bit of a stir (a problem, little chaos). This is a good phrase to be aware of, but not one to use all the time – or ever, if it doesn’t seem to really fit your personality!
It also has to be said that tone, manner, and sincerity all play a role in any apology. The rule of thumb (general rule) should always be to sound genuine and…sorry.
Do you know of any other ways to say sorry in English? How do you apologize in your native language? Share with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, and yoga instructor and doesn’t have to say “sorry” very often, but when she does, she really means it!