How and when to apologise is not just something that learners of English might have to grapple with, but also English speakers.
First up, there are some questions and issues to think about before you say ‘sorry’:
- Do you genuinely believe you made a mistake?
- Should you say sorry if in fact you didn’t do anything wrong..?
- Do you feel sincerely sorry?
- Is saying ‘sorry’ better than saying nothing?
- Do you think you’ve learned from this and won’t repeat the same mistake..?
- Is it better to tell your friend (or someone you know) in person, over the phone, over a text message..? Or is a small gift better?
Now here are some common phrases and collocations:
Apologising For Something You’ve Done
I apologise | apologize (= tends to be used in slightly more formal situations or in written correspondence)
We sincerely | do apologise for (any inconvenience caused) = you might read this in a letter from a business after you have complained
I’m terribly | awfully | really | so sorry
I’m sorry about that (= often used when there’s a smaller problem, like if I spill a drink on you)
You can add an explanation or some comment to show empathy:
Sorry, I went too far.
Sorry, I don’t know what got hold of me (= why I lost control)
Sorry, I screwed things up = I messed things up
Sorry, I was acting like a tool (= idiot)
I didn’t mean to (hurt you) = it wasn’t my intention to (hurt you)
I don’t know what to say.
Look, I won’t do it again.
I didn’t think it over = I didn’t think it through
You can also add meaning by adding stress to ‘am’:
I really am sorry, Bill.
As the song goes:
I didn’t mean to hurt you
I’m sorry that I made you cry
Oh my I didn’t want to hurt you
I’m just a jealous guy
Seeing Things From Their Position
I guess I made it hard for you.
That must have been hard for you.
Sympathising With A Friend Who’s Heard Some Bad News
I’m sorry for your loss.
I’m sorry to hear your news – are you ok?
I’m sorry to hear that.
(Compare with ‘apologise‘, which wouldn’t be used here)
Following Up On Sympathizing
If there’s anything I can do, (please) let me know.
Is there anything I can do?
Do you need a hand?
When You’re Disappointed About A Situation
I’m sorry to hear you’ve decided to leave the company.
I’m sorry you feel that way.
Phrases They Might Shout – Just Like In A Soap Opera
I can’t believe you did that!
How could you!
I trusted you!
How can I trust you again!?!
When You Want To Communicate Regret
Sometimes, such as in politics, someone may not want to be seen to say sorry, so instead they might use the word ‘regret’. Regret is similar to being sorry – it could mean you are sad about the situation or that you wish things were different now.
I regret that we did not consult you earlier.
I regret speaking to her about your finances.
We regret to inform you that your order has been cancelled.
When your feelings are stronger, you might say:
I deeply regret what I did.
It was (totally) my fault.
I accept that it was my responsibility = more formal
Yeah, you were right and I was wrong
I shouldn’t have done it
Adding A Reason (While Saying Sorry)
Sorry I’m running late. I’ll be there in half an hour – the traffic is pretty bad.
Sorry, it’s just that I don’t have the time right now.
Please try to understand what I do..
In ‘Burn For You’ they know they’re having problems, he’s travelling and performing and asks his wife to understand his side:
You Don’t Have To Say Sorry When Saying ‘No’
Please note that instead of saying “Sorry, I can’t come..” you can answer a request by speaking directly:
John: Can you help me on Friday on the Berlin proposal?
Ralph: No, I can’t.
It’s really up to you how you wish to respond, and part of it is cultural.
However, in our sometimes overly-polite society, apologising can also go too far and seem insincere. For example, I once received this email:
I do sincerely apologise for any inconvenience that may have been caused. I can confirm that and therefore they don’t have . I do sincerely apologise for the inconvenience that may have been caused.
So in deciding what to say, bear in mind who you’re speaking to and in which country you’re operating. As well as how you’re feeling!
In the Czech Republic (where I’m presently based) it’s quite common for a shop assistant to give news directly, without apologising or showing regret:
Me: “Do you have this in a size S?”
Assistant: “Ne, nemáme” (= no we don’t)
In Australia a shop assistant would usually add something like: “I’ll go out back and check if we have any” or “We can order it if you want..” or “Sorry, that’s all we’ve got.”
What About When The Apology Comes Too Late?
As the song says:
You tell me that you’re sorry
Didn’t think I’d turn around, and say…
It’s too late to apologize, it’s too late
You can also say:
It’s too little, too late
That’s your problem. I’ve moved on..
Look, I don’t need to hear this..
Alternatively, if you didn’t need to hear the apology from someone because you’ve moved on and you’re totally ok, you can say:
No worries. It’s water under the bridge = it’s no longer important
Sorry, I was stuck in traffic. But let me make it up to you. Drinks are on me…
How can I ever make it up to you? I’m so, so sorry…
I promise I won’t do it ever again, you’ll see…
When you ‘make up’ it’s the idea of solving the problem and feeling good again in your relationship. There’s also:
Let’s kiss and make up
“Our argument was bad, but the make up sex was brutal!”
Checking That Things Are Now Cool After Making Up
So we’re cool?
So we’re all good?
And You Don’t Need To Apologise For Your English!
Seriously, there’s no need and it takes you and your friend away from the topic of connecting and having a nice conversation.
What do you think – is ‘sorry’ the hardest word to say?
Baby Can I Hold You – Tracey Chapman
Is all that you can’t say
Years gone by and still
Words don’t come easily
Like sorry, like sorry
Via Facebook (Vitek Havlis)