Question: When do we apologise in English?
Answer: All the time! For everything!
Well, not quite, but English people apologise when:
1) We’ve done something wrong.
For ex: I step on a man’s shoe on the subway and he turns around looking angry. I automatically say ‘I’m sorry!’
2) When we interrupt someone else in conversation (often just before we are about to start an argument). We aren’t really at all sorry when we use it in this context.
For ex: George was saying ‘Yesterday I ate a sandwich, some rice, an apple, some sweets – ’
When Rebecca interrupted him, saying ‘I’m sorry but we need to get on with our work; can you stop talking about food please?’
3) To show our feelings when something bad happens to someone.
For ex: My friend’s dog died last weekend, so I said ‘I’m very sorry to hear your sad news.’
4) To ask someone to repeat something.
For ex: My friend is talking very quietly. I say ‘I’m sorry, can you say that again?’
We also have many different ways to apologise!
General, all-purpose apologies
‘I’m so / very / really / genuinely sorry’
‘I’m sorry if…’
For ex: ‘I’m sorry if I made you feel bad.’
‘I was wrong’
For ex: ‘I was wrong to suggest that we take this bus. Now we’re lost. I’m sorry.’
‘I am /was in the wrong’
For ex: ‘I realise now that I was in the wrong when we had that argument’
For ex: When pushing your way off the subway, you say ‘(please) excuse me!’
In informal situations (to friends, in everyday conversation)
‘I’m an idiot’
For ex: ‘I’m sorry I got so drunk last night. I’m an idiot.’
‘I was out of order’
For ex: ‘I was out of order when I called you those bad names.’
‘I messed up’
For ex: ‘I know I shouldn’t have gambled all my money away. I messed up.’
‘I shouldn’t have said that’
For ex: during an argument with their parents a teenager might say ‘I hate you!’ But later they apologise: ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, I don’t really hate you.’
‘I made a stupid mistake’
For ex: if a man is having an affair and his wife finds out he might say ‘It was only one time, I made a stupid mistake!’
In formal situations (at work, in a letter, in emails)
‘Pardon me!’ (spoken)
For ex, if you accidentally walk into someone you say ‘Pardon me!’
‘I beg your pardon’
‘I must apologise’
For ex: ‘I must apologise for being so rude to you.’
‘Please forgive me’
‘I hope that you can forgive me’
‘I’m awfully / terribly sorry’
‘I cannot express how sorry I am’
‘It / (something) was inexcusable’
For ex: ‘Calling you incompetent at the meeting was inexcusable’
‘There is no excuse for my behaviour’
When opening formal letters and emails
‘I would like to express my regret’
‘I apologise wholeheartedly / unreservedly’
For ex: ‘I apologise wholeheartedly for the delay to your flight, and offer you a full refund as compensation’
For finishing formal letters and emails
Please accept my / our sincere apologies
Please accept my / our humblest apologies
My deepest apologies
With deepest apologies
Have you had to apologise recently and haven’t known what to say? Get in touch!
About the Author: This post comes to you from Natalie, English Trackers’ current intern. After graduating with a degree in Classics and English from Exeter University she moved to Beijing for six months to learn Mandarin.
Give me more!
Let’s hope you don’t need to say you’re sorry because you sent an angry email!
Endangered words that are disappearing from the English language