When I got hit by a van while riding my bicycle near Mt. Fuji in Japan, the driver apologized all the way to the hospital and even just before I entered the CT scanner.
Hours later, when I reemerged from the hospital with my arm and head wrapped in bandages, the driver was still there –– standing next to my damaged bike and holding my gear. His apologies didn't change the outcome, but exhibiting compassion, empathy and holding himself accountable slightly eased the suffering.
How do you apologize? What do you say when you need to admit fault or when you have to ask for clarity? What do you say when you want to interject, express regret or sympathy?
In this post, I'm gong to share 53 phrases for apologizing in English that will help to expand your vocabulary and apologize correctly –– with friends, family, colleagues or anyone else.
We admit fault when making mistakes, when arriving late, when upsetting others, etc.
Tips for Admitting Fault
Include a short explanation or an action step for more serious apologies in order to reduce the chance of someone being overly upset, but also to increase the chance of your apology being accepted.
For example, if a student arrived late to class or a guest arrived late to a dinner party, he/she might first apologize and then add a short explanation. Like this:
"I’m sorry for being late. I missed the train."
Additionally, if a customer complained that he'd been waiting 30 minutes for his food, the server might first apologize and then add an action step. Like this:
"I'm terribly sorry. I'll check with the kitchen right now."
Phrases for Admitting Fault
My Bad (very casual)
A: My bad (bumping into someone).
B: No worries.
A: We lost the account. They went with another firm.
B: It's my fault. I should've been more prepared for the presentation.
A: You said the cafe's on the right, next to Chipotle.
B: My mistake. It's on the left, next to Taco Bell.
I was Wrong About...
A: That movie was terrible!
B: You're right! I was wrong about that one. Sorry.
It is/was my Fault/Mistake
A: Which one of you left the front door open all night?
B: It's my fault, dad.
There is/was a Mistake (shifting fault to an unspecified person or thing).
A: There's a mistake on the bill. We didn't order the nachos.
B: Oh! I'm awfully sorry about that. I'll take care of that.
A: Sorry (bumping into someone).
B: No problem.
Sorry About That
A: You forgot to call me this morning.
B: Sorry about that. I woke up late.
A: I'm sorry (stepping on someone's foot). I didn't see you.
B: No worries.
I'm Sorry to...
A: I'm sorry to be late. I missed the train.
B: Ok. Please have a seat.
I'm Sorry for...
A: I've been on hold for 15 minutes.
B: I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir. How can I help?
I’m Sorry You're Upset
A: We should've left earlier! Now, we're going to be late.
B: I didn't think we'd get stuck in traffic at this hour.
A: We're stuck!
B: Well, I’m sorry you're upset.
I'm So/Really/Very Sorry
A: Excuse me. My child just spilled a carton of milk on aisle 12. I'm really sorry.
B: Thank you, ma'am. I'll have someone clean it up immediately.
I'm Awfully/Genuinely/Terribly Sorry
A: I'm terribly sorry about the broken vase.
B: I inherited it from my grandmother!
A: How can I make this up to you?
My Humble/Deepest/Sincere Apologies
A: Please accept our sincere apologies, Mr Kawasaki. We've credited your account for the last 2 nights.
B: Well, thank you.
Please Forgive Me
A: Please forgive me, Ms. Stone. I somehow confused the number of guests. We only have 13 chairs.
B: How many guests are coming?
A: Please excuse me. I don't like to breastfeed in public, but I have no choice on a plane.
B: I understand. I'll use the restroom to give you a little privacy.
That is/was a Mistake
A: Can you believe that we left for the airport without our passports?
B: Yep, that was definitely a mistake!
Would/Can You Forgive Me?
A: I'm sorry I forgot your birthday. Can you forgive me?
B: I'll think about it.
Asking for Clarity
We ask for clarity when we don't understand, when we don't hear someone clearly, when we're shocked at what someone has said, etc.
Tips for Asking for Clarity
If you're unable to catch what someone said, use "Pardon" or "Pardon me." However, if you ask someone to repeat him/herself more than twice and you're still unable to understand, don't keep repeating "Pardon" or "Pardon me."
Instead, first apologize by admitting fault and/or shifting the blame to the noisy environment. Then, request the information to be repeated. Like this:
"I'm terribly sorry. The music's so loud that it's difficult to hear. Could you say that again?"
Phrases for Asking for Clarity
A: I'm sorry. Did you say 1-9 or 9-0?
A: Got it. Thanks!
A: I'm from Schenectady.
A: I'm from a city called Ski-nek-ta-di. It's in New York.
A: The deadline's Friday at 5:00 pm.
B: Pardon me?
A: The deadline. It's Friday at 5:00 pm.
I Beg Your Pardon
A: How about going to my place after work, Lucy?
B: I beg your pardon!
A: Oh, no! I didn't mean it that way! I meant...
A: Yo, Rolly! What's up, dude?
B: Excuse me?
A: Is this Roland Jones?
B: I'm afraid you have the wrong number.
We interject when we want to interrupt someone, when we want to politely disagree, when we need to transition a topic, etc.
Tips for Interjecting
Nobody likes to be interrupted. So, when you need to interrupt someone, start by either excusing yourself or with an apology. Add a compliment, when appropriate. Like this:
"Hans, I'm sorry to interrupt. I really like some your ideas, but would you mind if we discussed this in more detail once I arrive? I've got to check in."
Phrases for Interjecting
A: Excuse me. Where's the restroom?
B: Around the corner and to the left.
A: Sorry, Jim. Can I call you back in a few hours? I've got to run.
I'm Sorry to Interrupt
A: I'm sorry to interrupt, Mr. Suzuki. Your wife's on the phone.
B: Thanks, Nancy.
I'm Sorry, But I Can't Agree
A: Abraham Lincoln is the greatest president the we've ever had.
B: I'm sorry, but I can't agree. What about Washington or the Roosevelt cousins?
We express regret when we want to acknowledge an offense or failure, when someone isn't formally accepted into a college or club, when someone's laid off, when we want to soften a negative response, etc.
Tips for Expressing Regret
The secret to providing a negative response without being overtly negative is to avoid saying "no."
Replace "no" with "Actually," "I'm afraid" or "I'm sorry, but..." Like this:
"I'm afraid we can't make it to the pool party this weekend. We'd love to come next time, though."
Phrases for Expressing Regret
A: Welcome! Are you here to speak with Mr. Collins?
B: Actually, I'm here to pick up my wife for lunch.
A: I'm afraid Mr. Müller's unavailable. Can I take a message?
B: Could you have him call Tomohiro Sato from Bento Sites? He has my number.
I’m Sorry, But...
A: Hi, Todd. We've got an emergency! We need you to come in as soon as possible.
B: I'm sorry, but I'm on vacation with my family at Disney right now.
I’m Afraid Not
A: Do you have any specials (at a restaurant) tonight?
B: I'm afraid not. We sold out of the special at 8:00.
A: I thought you were going to call me on Friday about the tickets.
B: I totally forgot. I apologize.
I’d Like to Apologize
A: I’d like to apologize for my dog barking all last night.
B: I was sound asleep, but he did wake up my husband.
I Must/Want to/Need to Apologize
A: Ben, I need to apologize for what I said earlier. I'm so sorry.
B: Why'd you say that to me? It really hurt!
I Owe You an Apology
A: I owe you an apology. It was wrong of me to say that.
B: Please don't say it again, ok?
I Sincerely Apologize
A: Oh, I'm such a klutz! I sincerely apologize. Let me buy you another coffee.
B: Could you get some napkins?
I'm Sorry to Hear That
A: Friday's my last day. I've taken a position at Bento Sites.
B: I'm sorry to hear that. We'll miss you, Werner.
I'm Sorry You’re Upset
A: I don't want to talk about work anymore, ok?
B: I'm sorry you’re upset.
I'm Sorry You Feel That Way
A: My candidate isn't going to win. There's no point in voting!
B: I'm sorry you feel that way.
I'm So/Really/Very Sorry
A: Did you want to talk with me, Mr. Phillips?
B: Yes. I'll get straight to the point. We have to let you go, Ned. I'm so sorry.
A: My apologies. I must've deleted that email. Could you resend it?
B: Sure. I'll do it now.
Please Allow Me to Apologize
A: I've thought about what you said. Please allow me to apologize. I'm really sorry.
B: Why'd you do that?
Please Accept My/Our Apology
A: Hello, Ms. Green?
A: This is Hugo at the front desk. Please accept my apology for the unsatisfactory condition of your room. We've upgraded you to a Honeymoon Suite.
Sorry, It's/We're/They're Closed
A: Are you hungry?
B: I'm craving a ham and pineapple pizza!
A: It's after 9:00. Sorry, Aloha Pizza's closed.
We Regret to Tell/Inform You That…
Dear Mr. Alan Smithee,
Thank you for applying to Savannah College of Art and Design. After completing a careful review of your application and supporting credentials, we regret to inform you that you have not been accepted into the program.
We express sympathy when someone shares sad news, when someone is hurt or ill, when someone passes away, etc.
Tips for Expressing Sympathy
Try to imagine how someone feels and what words could make them feel slightly better. Be compassionate. Be empathetic. Be sincere.
Phrases for Expressing Sympathy
I'm Sorry About Your...
A: I'm sorry about your grandfather.
B: Thanks, Jill. I'm going to visit him at the hospital after work.
I’m Sorry for Your Loss
A: Beth was really special. I'm sorry for your loss.
B: Thank you.
I'm So/Really/Very Sorry
A: I heard what happened, Ned. I'm very sorry.
B: I've been here 15 years! I don't know what I'm going to do now.
You Have My/Our Deepest Sympathy
A: Jane, you have my deepest sympathy. Just let me know if there's anything you need.
B: Thank you.
My/Our Deepest Sympathies
Our deepest sympathies go out to you and your family. May you find the peace and comfort that you seek during this difficult time.
Please Accept Our/My Condolences
A: Please accept our condolences. We're honored to have known him.
The Guide to Tipping (PDF)
You just learned 53 phrases for apologizing in English. I hope these tips, phrases and examples help you to expand your vocabulary and apologize correctly in English.
Can you think of anymore phrases for apologizing? Answer in the Comments below.
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