Saying Sorry in English: Essential Phrases for Perfect English Apologies
Oh no, I did something wrong.
I wish I hadn’t said that.
I feel really bad about what I did.
All of us have felt bad about something we did or said.
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if it came with an “undo” button?
Unfortunately, we can’t change the past. We have to live with the consequences (results or effects) of our previous choices.
But there’s a magic word that we can use to make things a little better.
Can you guess what it is? (Hint: It’s only five letters long!)
Yes, you’re right. It’s “sorry.”
Learning to say sorry in English is essential to speaking polite English. It’ll help you in personal relationships as well as professional ones. Keep reading to learn essential phrases, tips and tricks for saying sorry in English.
Saying Sorry: The Absolute Basics
Saying “sorry” means we admit our mistake (whatever we did wrong) and take responsibility for our actions. It means we’ve done something bad and now we’re trying to do better.
I’m sorry for hurting your feelings. I promise I will not be mean to you again.
We also say “sorry” when we’re feeling really bad about someone and we want to show that we understand and care for their feelings.
I’m really sorry to hear that you lost your job.
The word “sorry” is used in many situations.
Also, depending on what we did and who we’re speaking to, the way we apologize (say sorry) changes.
Common Vocabulary Words for Saying Sorry
Sometimes, just saying sorry isn’t enough.
There are specific words and phrases we can use to express or explain our feelings.
I’ll be using them in this post, so first let’s learn some of the most important words related to saying sorry:
Apologize (verb): To say sorry.
Regret (noun or verb): The horrible feeling when we wish that we hadn’t done a certain thing.
I have lots of regrets about the way I acted. (Noun)
I regret signing up for that stressful job. (Verb)
Apologetic (adjective): Showing regret for something you’ve done.
She was really apologetic about shouting at you in the meeting.
Ashamed (adjective): Feeling really bad or embarrassed about past actions.
I am ashamed of how hurtful I was to my sister.
Remorseful (adjective): The painful awareness of our wrongdoing. Similar to “ashamed.”
After fighting with his best friend, he was remorseful about the way he had treated her.
Fault (noun): A flaw or an error. When used with a personal pronoun like “my” or “your,” it means taking responsibility for your actions or assigning blame.
It was my fault that we arrived late, and I’m sorry.
I’m sorry we’re late, but it was her fault, not mine.
Mistake (noun): Any error or misunderstanding. We frequently use the word “mistake” with the verb “make.”
I made too many mistakes, so we failed the group project.
Forgive (verb): To stop feeling angry or upset at a person who did something bad.
I don’t know if I can forgive her yet.
Quick Tips for Sincere Apologies
Saying sorry won’t fix a problem immediately. An apology isn’t a good apology until you mean it and you really want to do better. Here are some quick tips for sincere apologies in English:
- Take responsibility for your mistake(s): Admit that it was your fault, using the first person (I, me, my, mine). Don’t blame anyone else for your actions.
- Focus on your body language and tone: Make eye contact with your listener and try to speak in a soft and calm voice. Your apology must sound sincere and heartfelt.
- Ask for forgiveness: If it’s a major mistake, you must ask for forgiveness. But be prepared for the fact that there’s a chance that you may not be forgiven.
Saying Sorry in English: Essential Phrases for Perfect English Apologies
As I’ve mentioned before, saying sorry depends on context.
In other words, apologizing is different depending on the situation. Did you really make somebody feel bad, or did you make a very small mistake, like bumping into somebody at the store? Are you talking to a boss, or are you talking to your best friend? Did you make a mistake, or are you offering comfort?
All of these things will impact how you say sorry.
I’ve included many different phrases that can be used in each of these situations.
Check out my examples. Pay special attention to the phrases in bold. These are the essential (most important) phrases you need to learn to say sorry.
To get you started, check out the video below, which gives a helpful overview of the different ways to use sorry in English with explanations, context-specific examples and native clips.
Saying Sorry When You’ve Done Something Wrong
Very often, we make major mistakes or we mess up.
Some of these mistakes might be deliberate—that is, done on purpose. (Perhaps you got angry at a coworker, so you took something from their desk.) Some mistakes could be accidents or misunderstandings.
But either way, if the mistake was your fault, you should own up to it (accept responsibility) and apologize.
I’m so sorry. I was incorrect.
I apologize for my mistake. I should have been paying more attention.
That was wrong of me. I promise I will never do it again.
I messed up and I’m sorry. I will try to do better next time.
Saying Sorry When You’ve Hurt Someone’s Feelings
All our actions have consequences and affect people around us.
Sometimes what we say or do can upset people.
In such cases, it’s important to apologize as well as to ask for forgiveness. You can also ask what you can do to make the other person feel better.
I’m very sorry for forgetting the groceries. Please don’t be mad at me.
I didn’t mean to hurt you but I’m sorry I did. Will you please give me another chance?
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.
I’m filled with remorse for what I did last night.
It was my fault that I lost my temper. Will you please forgive me?
I’m so sorry. I’m ashamed of lying to you.
I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to make this up to you?
I truly regret what I did.
Saying Sorry When You’ve Made a Small Mistake
Not all of our mistakes are big. Bumping into someone in a store or stepping on someone’s toes when you’re in a hurry are minor mistakes. They might happen when we’re careless or distracted.
However, we should still apologize in these situations.
Here are some simple phrases for small mistakes. Remember to say these phrases with a smile and a cheerful tone:
Oh, sorry! I didn’t see you there! (Used when you step on someone’s toes or bump into someone)
Sorry about that!
Sorry, it was an accident!
Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that!
Saying Sorry When You Want to Express Sympathy for Others
Saying sorry isn’t just for when you make a mistake.
We also say it when we want to sympathize with others. In other words, we say sorry to show that we understand and care about our family members, friends or acquaintances when they experience difficulties.
Here are some phrases you can use to sympathize with someone:
I’m so sorry to hear about your break-up. How are you coping now that she has left?
I’m sorry that this happened to you. It must have been so terrible. No one should have to go through that.
I’m very sorry. I’ve been through this and I understand how you feel.
I cannot express how sorry I am to hear about this.
I’m really sorry to hear that you lost your job. I’m here for you if you wish to talk about it.
However, if the context is the death of someone, we usually use the phrase “my condolences.”
I’m sorry to hear about your father. My condolences. He must have been a great man.
Saying Sorry When You’re Trying to Get Someone’s Attention
In certain cases, you can use “sorry” to get someone’s attention. This is useful when you need somebody to repeat something, or when you need somebody to move.
Sorry, could you please repeat what you said?
Sorry, could you move over a bit so I can get through?
Sorry, could you pass me my jacket?
In these situations, we can also use words like “pardon” or “excuse me.”
Pardon? Could you repeat that?
Excuse me, can you pass me the salt?
Bonus Phrases: Saying Sorry in Special Situations
So far, I’ve talked about some of the most common situations where we need to apologize.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of saying sorry, let’s look at some more advanced phrases that native speakers might use. These are some phrases you might use in very informal situations (such as talking to a close friend), or very formal situations (such as a professional email).
Saying Sorry in Very Informal Situations
The way we apologize to a stranger is different from the way we speak to a close friend.
In fact, when it comes to casual situations with friends, we often use informal or “slang” language. These terms are especially good for talking about small mistakes.
My bad, I forgot to bring the book.
How silly/careless/stupid of me to say that!
I goofed, sorry!
Sometimes, if we’re texting with friends, we can shorten the word “sorry” or modify the spelling.
Sry. See ya soon! (Sorry. See you soon!)
Saying Sorry in Formal Situations
Apologies are really important in crucial situations, such as the workplace or an official environment.
For instance, employees may have to apologize to their bosses, either in writing or in person, if their work isn’t good enough. Or, workers may have to say sorry to customers or clients when something goes wrong.
In these cases, it’s best to use formal phrases. For example:
I would like to sincerely apologize for my mistake.
My apologies. I take full responsibility for that failure.
I owe you an explanation for my disappointing behavior.
In a professional email, you can use phrases that are even more formal. For example:
Please accept my sincerest apologies regarding…
Please accept this as my formal apology for…
Allow me to apologize on behalf of the entire company.
It’s really uncomfortable when you know you’ve done something wrong, but you don’t know the right words or phrases to admit your faults.
After reading this, you’ll never feel that way again!
Now, you know how to say sorry in any situation. Try practicing the above words and phrases by saying them out loud in front of the mirror.
If you’re unsure of how to pronounce certain words, look them up in an online dictionary. And remember, an apology isn’t an apology until you mean it. So try to be as sincere as you can, and keep practicing until you get it right!
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, journalist, editor and educator. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing/educational inquiries.