There are few things in life more frustrating than having difficulty communicating with others, and this is pretty inevitable when you move to a country that speaks a different language than your mother tongue.
Anyone learning a new language is sure to stumble sometimes, and apologies are the best and simplest way to brush off frustration and embarrassment. Knowing how to say “sorry” in English conversations when necessary is a vital skill to learn.
1. What is an Apology?
Apologies are one of the most important aspects of communication in any language. Saying “sorry” (and meaning it!) is a humble way of admitting you made a mistake, or admitting when you might have accidentally inconvenienced or hurt someone.
1- The Importance of Apologizing
How to say sorry when learning English is one of the most important things you’ll learn. Knowing how to apologize or say you’re sorry in English language isn’t just convenient, it’s necessary.
For one, apologizing is an expectation in most cultures and countries around the world. It’s considered rude and unruly to refrain from admitting your mistakes and asking forgiveness, no matter where you are. This is especially true in the United States, where there’s more and more focus on individual happiness.
Furthermore, apologizing right away (particularly for smaller issues) helps to avoid and minimize any conflicts down the road. This helps to keep resentment or anger from welling up in a relationship, and strengthens trust and respect between both parties.
And never forget that apologizing for your missteps and errors not only helps the other party—it really does benefit you just as much. When apologizing, you’ll make yourself feel more comfortable and at ease. You’ll also provide yourself with the ability to pinpoint your own error, take note of it, and improve your English.
What else? Apologizing can serve as a gateway for being understood. With trust and respect gained after an apology, there’s often room for digging to the root of the issue. While the point of an apology is never to make excuses for your actions or brush them off entirely, you may find that once the words, “I’m sorry,” have fallen from your lips, there’s forgiveness on the other side. And from there, understanding can be gained—even if it only helps you understand yourself better.
Now that we’ve talked about the why, let’s continue forward by learning some of the most important “sorry” words in English.
2. Most Important “Sorry” Words in English
Before we’re able to move into the nitty-gritty details of how to say that you’re sorry in English, we need to take a look at a few of the most common and important words and phrases.
“Apology”: As discussed above, an “apology” is a way of expressing your sorrow for a mistake you made and asking forgiveness, or a pardon, for it. However, it’s not very common these days to actually use the word “apology” or “apologies” in English when saying you’re sorry (except in formal situations). In most day-to-day cases, this is simply a phrase to describe the act of saying “sorry”.
“Sorry”: This is the most common word for apologizing in English, and it can be used in numerous ways for any number of circumstances. This essentially serves as the “keyword,” or most often used word, for apologizing in English. We’ll go into more details about the different ways to use this below.
“Accident”: The majority of apologies are for minor occurrences, or “accidents”. For instance, your first instinct is probably to say “sorry” when unintentionally stepping on someone’s foot or interrupting them when they’re talking.
“Mistake”: For the purpose of this article, a “mistake” is typically more serious than an accident. For instance, if you make a “mistake,” it could be a situation where you messed something up at work that caused big issues, or even that you made a poor moral choice that caused someone pain.
“Forgiveness”: When you apologize, you are more often than not seeking forgiveness. You want for the other party to pardon your action(s) and take part in moving forward from it. This is most often reflected in the phrases, “Please forgive me,” or “Will you forgive me?”
Now that you know some of the important English words related to apologizing, let’s learn how to apologize for poor English.
3. Making an Apology for Poor English
One of the first things you’ll likely find need to apologize for in the United States is poor English. Communication is vital to anyone and everyone, but it can certainly be difficult when you’re in a new country that speaks a different language. Frustration may start to grow for both you and the person/people you’re trying to speak with.
But, if you know how to make a quick apology for poor English, you’ll find that frustration turns into a quest for a solution. This is where knowing how to say, “Sorry for my English,” can be a lifesaver.
For example, let’s say you’ve just moved to the United States for a job that you just couldn’t pass up. You know enough English to get around, but you find that discussing a big project with English-speaking colleagues is just plain difficult.
If you’re having a hard time keeping up or sharing your own thoughts, if you make an apology for poor English, you’ll find that you and your colleagues can find more efficient ways of communicating based on that information.
Here are some phrases you can use to apologize for your poor English:
“Sorry for my English.”
“Sorry about my English.”
“Sorry for my bad English.”
Above are some of the simplest ways to make an apology for poor English, and each one has about the same meaning. Any of these phrases will be well-accepted and understood in just about any environment or situation.
If you want to make a more formal or elaborate apology for poor English, the phrases below work well too.
“I apologize for my poor English.” or “I’m sorry for my poor English.”: Adding the pronoun “I” to your simple apology adds an extra layer of sincerity and meaning; it shows that it comes from you, and that you mean it.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t speak English very well yet.”: This is similar to the phrases mentioned above, but uses a few additional words. Apologizing for poor English in this way shows that while you’re not yet fluent in the language, you really are trying and putting effort into learning.
“Please be patient with me, my English isn’t very good.”: This apology is a little bit different than the others. You begin by asking the other party to be patient, which shows that you understand their potential frustration. Then, you explain that your English isn’t very good; this gives the other party a fair warning that there may be some difficulties in communicating.
“My English isn’t very good. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”: This is similar to the previous apology. In this case, you begin by explaining your poor English, and then you apologize for how it may inconvenience the other party (by frustrating them or making the task at hand more difficult).
You can also add to your apology, so as to give further explanation or make suggestions to help further your communication. For example:
“My English isn’t very good yet, but I’m learning.”
“I apologize for my poor English. Maybe we can talk about this project over email instead.”
Now that you know a few ways to make an apology for poor English, let’s move on to talking about how to apologize for other small inconveniences.
4. Apologizing for Other Small Inconveniences
No matter who you are or where you live, you’re going to do something that bothers or annoys someone at some point. Are you getting mean stares from someone because you’re biting your nails too loudly? Are you walking too slowly for the person behind you? Did you accidentally bump into someone walking on the sidewalk?
Though things like this are pretty insignificant, it’s still polite to apologize. Here are some common apology sentences and phrases in English that you can use for situations like this:
“Sorry.” or “I’m Sorry.”: This is the most common and informal way of apologizing for a minor inconvenience. You can use one of these two phrases in just about any circumstance.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”: When you add the “Oh,” to the above apology, it usually shows more humility or surprise. (But keep in mind that your tone of voice is important here, as this can also be interpreted as sarcasm, depending on the circumstances. Make sure it’s clear that you’re sincerely apologizing.)
“Sorry about that.”: This apology is usually used when you’ve made some kind of minor error or miscalculation. For example, if you told someone a piece of information that you later found out was incorrect, you can say something along the lines of, “Oh, I just remembered that it costs five dollars, not two. Sorry about that.“
“Sorry to bother you.”: How to say “Sorry to bother you,” in English is pretty standard across situations. It’s typically used when you interrupt someone, or cause them some mild inconvenience. It can be used before or after the actual interruption happens: “Sorry to bother you. I have a quick question,” or “Thank you for answering my question. Sorry to bother you.“
“I’m so sorry.”: This is something you should probably say if you, for example, ran into someone on accident and made them drop something they were carrying. (And, if it’s not too much trouble, picking it up for them is always a nice thing to do while saying it.)
“Sorry for my mistake.”: How to say “Sorry for my mistake,” in English depends on the severity of the situation. In general, this phrase tends to be a more serious apology than the others in this section, but is still informal enough to use for smaller-scale apologies. Use it when you’ve made a mistake, and wish to apologize for any harm it’s caused.
“My bad.”: If you’re looking for another word for sorry in English, this phrase is increasingly common to use after making a minor error, especially among younger generations. It literally means “(it’s) my fault.” Much like “I’m sorry,” this phrase can be used for most situations, but is even less formal. Its origins are fairly blurry.
5. How to Apologize for Something More Serious
Little inconveniences happen, and they happen often. Most people learn to let them go, and forgive easily. But things can get a lot messier when you (or someone you know) makes a far more serious mistake.
We’re all people, and none of us are perfect. For this reason, it’s important to learn how to make a serious and heartfelt apology (and how to accept them, but we’ll get to this later).
If you know you’ve really messed up or have deeply hurt or offended someone, whether it was intentional at the time or not, a meaningful apology is often the first step in restoring a relationship. It can be difficult to humble ourselves enough to do it, and more difficult still to gain the courage to. But once you’re ready to try and make amends, here are some phrases you can use for saying sorry to someone you hurt in English language:
“I owe you an apology.”: If you aren’t sure how to begin your apology, this is often a good way to start it. It gets to the point, and serves as an opener for anything else you have to say about the issue. By saying that you owe someone an apology, it shows that the hurt you caused them has put you in debt to them, and the price is a sincere apology.
“I’m very sorry for _____.”: Using the word “very” shows that there’s more substance to your apology than there would be for a smaller error. Here, you can also fill in the blank to explain exactly what it is you’re sorry for; this helps the other person realize that you know your mistake and are owning up to it. It also helps you come to grips with whatever it is you did so that you can do better in the future.
“I’m really sorry I did that.”: This is similar to the above phrase, but is a little more generalized.
“I’m sorry for hurting you.”: Sometimes it’s not enough to explain what you’re sorry for. It’s important to acknowledge not only that it happened, but the fact that it hurt the person you’re apologizing to. People need to feel understood, and an apology goes much further when the offended party’s pain is properly acknowledged. This also shows that you understand the weight of your mistake.
“I’m very sorry for hurting your feelings.”: Similar to the above apology, this is a way of acknowledging the emotions of the other party. However, this apology is best used after you’ve said some harsh words to (or about) somebody. In some cases, it can also be used after you’ve done something that hurts their feelings, though this is less common.
“I know that what I did was wrong, and I’m sorry for it.”: This is a slightly more elaborate apology. It not only apologizes, but also shows the other party that you know you did, indeed, make a mistake (as opposed to simply “saving face,” which is less favorable in the United States than it is in some other countries).
Once you’ve stated your initial apology, it’s also a good idea to assure the other party that you won’t make that mistake again. For example, you can say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry for hurting you. I’ll never ____ again. Will you forgive me?” (In the blank space, state what it is you did to hurt them.)
But it doesn’t end there. After a meaningful apology, it’s important to put words into action. Do your very best to keep your promises and show that your apology was really sincere.
6. How to Accept Blame for a Mistake
Knowing the above English apology phrases is important and is sure to prove helpful. But how do you actually go about accepting blame for something you’ve done wrong?
Well, to begin with, this is a matter which must be dealt with in your heart. Until you’ve thought about it, and decided in your heart that you really did mess up and an apology is owed, accepting blame is impossible and any apology you make will be empty.
Once you get to this point and have accepted for yourself that you made a mistake, it’s time to let the other party know that you realize this. Accepting blame is a little bit different than apologizing (though you can do both together).
Essentially, when you decide to accept blame for (or “own up to” ) your mistake, you’re taking fault away from the other party or the surrounding circumstances. You’re no longer looking to make excuses.
Here are some phrases you can use when admitting that you made a mistake and are at fault:
“I made a mistake.”: This is one of the simplest ways to admit a mistake. It’s straight and to-the-point, and an apology can easily be added to it.
“This is (all) my fault.”: This phrase is usually better used for larger issues, especially if you include the word “all,” which indicates that a lot has happened or a lot is on the line.
“I caused this.”: This is similar to the above phrase, but not used quite as often.
“I know that I messed up.”: This is a simple, humble way of admitting to someone that you did something wrong. “Messed up,” indicates that what you did caused some kind of trouble, whether in the immediate situation or on an emotional level.
You can also add one of the apology phrases you learned to these, in order to turn it into a more formal and sincere apology. For example, you could say, “This is all my fault. I’m really sorry for everything.”
7. Formal/Business Apologies
As in most places, apologies differ a bit once you reach the business world (or even just the office). These differences involve both language and overall manner. In this section, we’ll go over how to say sorry in business English, as well as the mannerisms that usually accompany business apologies in English.
You know how earlier we said that the word “apology” is rarely used in the apology itself? Well, the few occasions that it is used, it’s usually in business or work environments. How to say “sorry” in English (formal) is all about professional language and conciseness.
Here are common phrases used when companies make apologies to the public (take note of the use of the word “we” as the company apologizes as a whole):
“We offer our deepest apologies.”: When a company messes up, it needs to make sure the public knows that it recognizes this. It also needs to make sure that the public sees its apology as genuine.
“We are deeply sorry for ___.”: This is similar to the phrase above, but a little bit less formal (which, depending on the company and the circumstances, is sometimes an effective approach).
“We apologize for ___.”: Typically, a company will use a phrase like this for two reasons: 1.) To apologize for a smaller error that didn’t have too many negative consequences, or 2.) To apologize for something without sounding too desperate or over-the-top.
“We would like to apologize for/to ___.”: This is a little bit more formal than the above phrase.
“We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.”: This phrase is very often used by companies when a slightly larger error or mistake has occurred (particularly if it in any way makes life harder for its customers/consumers). For example, this phrase is likely to be used if a phone company’s service had an outage.
“Please be patient with us as we strive to resolve this issue.”: Companies know that people have limits to their patience, and that there’s always a competitor around the corner. It’s important for them to let customers know that they recognize the error and that they will fix it.
Apologies that take place on the job or in the office, while not as far-reaching, are still formal. Whether you’re an employee apologizing for not doing a thorough enough job, or an employer admitting a mistake, it’s important to promptly and professionally make apologies as necessary.
People, as individuals and inside relationships, tend to become deeply emotional, especially where apologies are involved. Companies, while manned by people, tend to take a less emotional approach when apologizing.
This said, most companies today strive to maintain a sense of “humanness” in their doings, and this includes making apologies. As you can see in the above examples, companies tend to use some of the same phrases that people do when making sincere apologies (though they make them more formal). And, of course, it’s important that companies follow through on their promises, too.
8. Offering Condolences
Saying sorry can go beyond apologizing for one’s own errors or mistakes. One can also apologize for the wrongdoings of someone else, or for a loss that someone has suffered. Knowing how to say, “Sorry for your loss,” in English can give you the ability to console someone going through a difficult loss, and show them you care.
Here are some examples of phrases that you can use to offer condolences in English:
“I’m (so) sorry for your loss.”: This is the most common way to offer condolences for someone’s loss. Simple and to the point, this phrase shows that you sympathize with this person’s feeling of loss.
“I’m (so) sorry that you suffered this loss.”: Similar to the above phrase, this is used to show sympathy and compassion for someone who’s lost a loved one or something else of immense importance to them.
“I know that this is hard for you.”: This phrase goes a step further, and can be added to one of the above phrases. It acknowledges that you understand the pain that this person is feeling, even if you’re not experiencing it yourself.
“I’m sorry this happened to you.”: This phrase can be used when a person has been struck with some kind of disaster or has been wronged in some way. It shows deep sympathy and validates the person’s mourning over the situation.
“I know that this person meant a lot to you.”: This phrase can be used to try and console someone who has lost a loved one. It acknowledges the significance of the event and the pain it caused.
“My condolences.”: This may be the simplest way to offer someone your condolences. This is best used when offering condolences to someone you don’t know well, or when you really don’t know what else to say. Though simple, this phrase is well-accepted and appreciated.
“I offer my condolences.”: This is a slightly more elaborate way of saying the above phrase, and has the same connotation.
9. Body Language
We’ve gone over a lot of words and phrases, haven’t we? It’s because, as people, we make a lot of mistakes. 😉
But oftentimes, the body language you use while apologizing is just as important (if not more so) as the words you use.
Let’s go over some important body language and gestures to use while apologizing, based on how severe the apology is.
1- Smaller Apologies
When it comes to making a smaller apology, there’s not too much to know about body language.
If you’re apologizing to a close friend or family member, a small apology is usually well-received if you make eye contact, and devote your attention to them during the exchange. (Of course, in the United States, if it’s something really petty, you can just say “Sorry,” or “My bad,” without eye contact.)
Eye contact is especially important if apologizing to a stranger for something small, as this shows sincerity. In the U.S., people greatly appreciate sincerity in any apology, even small ones; lowering one’s eyes or avoiding eye contact is often seen as a sign of insincerity or lying.
2- Larger Apologies
Eye contact is also important for larger apologies. However, also keep in mind that if you’ve done something that really hurt or offended this person, they may want some distance from you; don’t try to force eye contact or close proximity if they don’t seem interested.
Be sure to focus your full attention on the person you’re apologizing to, as this is a sign of respect and also reflects the fact that you’re taking this situation seriously.
Sometimes, especially when you’re apologizing to a family member, you can gently take their hand in yours while apologizing as a way of consoling them and showing that you mean what you say. This can also be a sign of affection, or even desperation for forgiveness.
Now you know some different ways to say sorry in English, no matter how severe the situation. Be sure to practice saying these phrases as much as possible, and incorporate body language (especially eye contact) when you can. Apologizing allows for growth and healing, both for the person you’re apologizing to, and for yourself.