“I’m sorry, so sorry, that I was such a fool!”
In 1960, 15-year-old American singer Brenda Lee reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her hit song “I’m Sorry.”
Everyone knows that saying sorry isn’t easy.
But if a teenaged Brenda Lee can admit she was a fool in front of the entire country, you can say sorry, too.
Expressing remorse or apologizing is an important skill to master when learning a new language.
After all, miscommunications occur frequently and cultural differences may cause someone’s behavior to be misinterpreted as rude.
Luckily, there are many ways to say sorry in Russian. I mean, just look at the Russian translation of the first line of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry”:
I’m sorry, so sorry
That I was such a fool.
Прости, мне очень жаль,
Что я была так глупа.
Whether you plan to belt out your apology like Ms. Lee or quietly write it in an email, read on to learn how to say sorry in Russian.
How to Say Sorry in Russian: Essential Phrases for a Heartfelt Apology
Two Verbs to Say “Sorry” in Russian: Извинить and Простить
There are two Russian verbs which are used for apologies: извинить and простить. The differences between these two words are subtle, but do exist.
Извинить is used extensively, often in formal situations, when the apology is for something small or when the apology is called for due to social expectations.
Извинить comes from two words: вина (fault) and the prefix из, a Russian preposition that means “out of.” When the prefix and stem come together, извинить means to remove fault.
Извините, что беспокою Вас. (Sorry to bother you.)
Извините меня (Excuse me) is often used when passing closely to someone or bumping into a stranger by accident.
Простить has a slightly different meaning. This verb is commonly used when someone has been offended and the person inflicting the offense wants to acknowledge what they’ve done and fix it.
Прости меня, моя любовь. (Forgive me, my love.)
Прости меня отец, ибо я согрешил. (Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.)
Простить is also used more often in written form, whereas извинить is preferred when speaking.
Using Извинить and Простить in Context
A simple way of understanding the difference is that извинить is often translated as “to excuse” whereas простить is more often translated as “to forgive.”
The majority of apologies made in Russian will contain either извинить or простить. It’s important to take note that both verbs can be adapted for informal or formal contexts. For instance, извини or прости would be used when addressing a friend, family member or loved one. However, you shouldn’t use those short forms for a stranger, boss, elder or anyone for whom you should demonstrate respect. In formal situations, be sure to use извините and простите.
If you want to learn how to naturally use these two verbs, FluentU is a great place to start.
Search for either Извинить or Простить (or any other words in this post) to bring up flashcards for them as well as videos that show them used in different situations.
Because each FluentU video features native Russian speakers, it’s a great way to practice your accent as well as learn how to use common words in context. Each video even comes with interactive subtitles, a vocabulary list and a built-in comprehension quiz. Check it out—it’s free to sign up!
Commonly Used Phrases for Apologizing in Russian
To give you more context, here are some examples of common phrases and sentences you can use to say “I’m sorry” in Russian:
Извините/Простите, пожалуйста (I’m sorry / Excuse me / Forgive me, please)
Извините, пожалуйста and Простите, пожалуйста convey that the speaker is being simultaneously apologetic and deferential. This is the most common phrase used to apologize in Russian and can be used as a default phrase in almost any situation.
You’re probably already familiar with the term пожалуйста (please). Here, combining пожалуйста with one of the words above makes for a very effective apology with a formal tone:
Простите, пожалуйста, что перебиваю Вас. (Please forgive me for interrupting you.)
It can also be used to get someone’s attention or request something, especially with Извините:
Извините, пожалуйста. Вы не могли бы передать соль? (Excuse me please. Can you pass the salt?)
Да, конечно. (Yes, of course.)
Мне очень жаль (I’m very sorry)
This is another catch-all phrase that’s valuable to know because it can be used to apologize or express regret or condolences. (For those keeping track, this one also appeared in the Russian translation of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.”)
Мне очень жаль, но я не согласен. (I’m very sorry, but I disagree.)
Мне очень жаль may be used to mean “I’m very sorry” in the context of a funeral. You can also substitute it with the phrase Мои соболезнования (My condolences).
Сожалею (I regret)
You can use this word to voice regret. For example:
Сожалею, что не проводил больше времени с отцом до его смерти. (I regret I didn’t spend more time with father before his death.)
Сожалею, что не учусь больше в университете. (I regret not studying more during university.)
Сожалею is also an option for those looking to express condolences:
Я сожалею о Вашей утрате. (I am sorry for your loss.)
It’s important to note that Сожалею is commonly considered formal. It’s frequently used in official documents, formal speeches or in the presence of high-ranking, political leaders.
Извините / Простите за беспокойство (Sorry for bothering you)
The word беспокойство means worry, concern, anxiety, trouble or disturbance.
As such, this sentence is frequently used when you’re interrupting someone and taking their time away from another task. This sentence acknowledges that you’re imposing on someone or distracting them from something that may be more important.
Простите за беспокойство. Вы знаете, где находится офис директора? (Sorry for bothering you. Do you know where the director’s office is located?)
Note that извинить would also be appropriate in this sentence; merely substitute it for Простите.
Прошу прощения за… (I apologize for…)
Inevitably, you’ll want to apologize for something in particular.
Прошу прощения is typically a formal apology and is often followed by за + accusative case to apologize for just about anything:
Прошу прощения за разбитое зеркало. (I apologize for the broken mirror.)
For many of us, life gets in the way, so it’s common for us to need to apologize for running late. Russians aren’t known for being the most punctual people, but this is a valuable phrase to know nonetheless. Chances are at some point you’ll be late to meet someone and need this phrase, or you may hear this from a tardy companion upon his arrival:
Прошу прощения за опоздание. (I apologize for being late.)
Alternatively, Прошу прощения may be used with за то, что which essentially means “for the fact that.” For example:
Прошу прощения за то, что мы забыли твой день рождения. (I apologize for [the fact that] we forgot your birthday.)
You can also simply leave out the за то, что and put a comma in place instead:
Прошу прощения, я неправильно понял. (I beg your pardon, I misunderstood.)
Now that you know how to give an apology, you should also be able to receive and respond to one.
Responding to Apologies in Russian
Apologizing is a two-way street. If you’re saying “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” in Russian, you’ll want to know what response to look for, to know if your apology has been accepted.
Most of these replies can be used in formal or informal situations.
Я прощаю Вас / тебя (I forgive you)
It’s not terribly common to say “I forgive you” as it’s quite formal. But this phrase is used occasionally. For example, you might use it to talk to your Russian teacher, since student-teacher relationships in Russia are very formal by nature. If you were to arrive late to class, you’d most likely say:
Прошу прощения за опоздание. (I apologize for being late.)
To which the teacher, particularly one who lives by Old World standards might reply:
Я прощаю Вас. (I forgive you.)
Всё в порядке (Everything is ok)
Perhaps you’re assigned a task by your boss and fulfill the requirements incorrectly. You might say:
Прошу прощения, я неправильно понял инструкции. (I beg your pardon, I misunderstood the instructions.)
Being a forgiving boss, he might reply:
Всё в порядке. (Everything is ok.)
Ничего страшного (Nothing’s wrong / It’s no big deal)
This phrase is meant to simply brush off a minor incident. For instance, if you forget a friend’s birthday, you could say:
Извини, я забыл твой день рождения. Я не купил тебе подарок! (Sorry I forgot your birthday. I didn’t buy you a present!)
And your friend could respond:
Ничего страшного. (Nothing’s wrong. It’s alright.)
Серьёзно, ничего страшного. (Seriously, it no big deal.)
Ладно (It’s ok)
Here’s another great option for informal situations.
If you’ve ever tried to cook a meal for a new love interest, you may find it doesn’t go perfectly the first time. In which case, you may need to say:
Мне жаль, что еда была слишком соленая. (I’m sorry the meal was too salty.)
Most likely, your date will appreciate your effort and respond:
Ладно (It’s ok.)
Бывает (It happens)
Similarly, if you live a hectic lifestyle, your family and friends may be accustomed to your forgetfulness.
My husband was once supposed to pick up our 8-year-old from school. He drove to the school and received a phone call before he got out of the car, so he took the call, and when it was over, he drove home without our daughter!
Apparently, he wasn’t the first parent to do this.
He returned to the school, and apologized to the teacher who graciously looked after our daughter:
Простите! Мне позвонили и я забыл, что делал. Я поехал домой без дочери. (I’m so sorry! I received a phone call and forgot what I was doing. I went home without my daughter.)
To which the teacher calmly shrugged her shoulders and said:
Бывает. (It happens.)
Probability tells us that at some point we’ll all be виноваты (guilty) of something. The above phrases should help you convey your apologies to whomever you offend.
And when the shoe’s on the other foot, try your best to show forgiveness. After all: Бывает (It happens.)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.