How many ways to say sorry do you know? I’ve got another question: have you ever forgotten your best friend’s birthday, or been late for an important meeting?
Have you ever been late for an important meeting, or spilt coffee on a friend’s shirt?
What connects all these situations?
They’re all situations where you might need to apologise. If so, what would you say? Of course, to apologise, you can just say ‘I’m sorry’, but there’s much more language that native-level English speakers use to apologise and express how they feel.
In this lesson, you’ll learn useful ways to say sorry in different ways in different situations.
QUIZ: Ways to Say Sorry
Test your knowledge of the language for apologising.
This quiz has 20 questions. In the first half, you need to choose or write a word from the lesson. In the later questions, choose the best from two possible sentences.
When you have finished, click ‘Finish Quiz’ to get your score. You can then reload the quiz to have another go, or click ‘View Questions’ to see all the correct answers.
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Question 1 of 20
Which is correct?
Question 2 of 20
“I ___ apologise.”
Which word can go in the gap to add emphasis?
Question 3 of 20
Which is not a way to emphasise an apology?
In the incorrect option, the words are in the wrong order.
Question 4 of 20
Which options are correct? Choose as many as you think are right.
One option was not mentioned in the lesson, but it is grammatically correct and commonly used, so you should tick it here. The incorrect options are not grammatically correct.
Question 5 of 20
Write a two-letter word.
Excuse , I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat it?
The missing word is a pronoun.
Question 6 of 20
Write a six-letter verb beginning with A to complete this formal apology.
Please my apologies.
Question 7 of 20
Write a six-letter verb to complete this sentence from formal writing.
We to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful.
The missing word begins with R.
Question 8 of 20
Write a six-letter word, which is used ironically here to correct an accusation.
I beg your . It wasn’t anything to do with me!
The missing word begins with P.
Question 9 of 20
Write a five-letter noun to complete this sentence, which takes responsibility for something.
I’m really sorry – it’s my .
The missing word begins with F.
Question 10 of 20
Write a three-letter verb to complete this apology.
I you an apology.
If you say the first letter, it sounds like the whole word!
Question 11 of 20
Write two words – a negative modal verb and a main verb – to complete this apology.
I sincerely apologise for being late. It again.
You need to use a contraction in the first word, which has four letters. The second word has six.
Question 12 of 20
Which sentence expresses disappointment?
Question 13 of 20
Which sentence expresses disagreement?
Question 14 of 20
Which sentence expresses sympathy?
Question 15 of 20
Which sentence uses ‘sorry’ to say something the listener won’t like hearing?
Question 16 of 20
For the last five questions, you will see a situation and two possible ways to apologise. You need to decide which is the most appropriate.
Someone writes this email to you:
I’ve seen your advert online for a bike that you’re selling. Please could you let me know if it’s still available?
What should you say in your reply?
This is not an informal email from a friend, but neither is it a very formal situation, so you should use neutral language with a bit of emphasis to be polite.
Question 17 of 20
You have sent an email to a company which includes this sentence:
I am writing to enquire whether you have any vacancies for administrative staff at your company.
Which sentence would be more appropriate in the reply?
This time, the correspondence is professional, so you would expect to read formal language.
Question 18 of 20
You have broken your housemate’s favourite mug and they don’t know yet, so you’re going to tell them.
What is the best way to do it?
Question 19 of 20
You are with a group of friends who are all talking at once, so you can’t hear very well.
What could you say to improve the situation?
Question 20 of 20
You and a colleague are interviewing someone for a job via a video call. You press ‘mute’ to make a comment to your colleague that you don’t want the interviewee to hear, but the mute function doesn’t work. The interviewee is a bit offended by what you have said.
Molly: I’m really annoyed! I came here specifically to buy an oven dish that I saw online, but then I was told you don’t sell them any more. Oli: Yes, the supplier went out of business, unfortunately. M: I drove all the way from Linden to buy one! Why is it on your website if you don’t have it? O: I apologise for the inconvenience. It happened very suddenly and we haven’t had time to update our website yet. M: Well, I’m not happy with this. O: I *do* apologise. I know it must be disappointing. Is there something else I can help you with instead? M: No thank you.
Saying ‘I apologise’ is a formal way to say sorry. You’ll most often hear it in a business environment, at an office or to someone in authority – like a boss, or a judge or a police officer. You may encounter different forms of ‘I apologise’ – such as ‘I *do* apologise’, or ‘Please accept my apologies’ or ‘my *sincerest* apologies’. Words like ‘do’ and ‘sincerest’ add emphasis, showing the other person that you feel bad about what happened.
These different forms of ‘I apologise’ are often found in formal writing. Have you ever received a letter of apology from a business for bad service? In English, those letters would probably start with something like: ‘We apologise …’
What are some other ways to say sorry used in formal writing?
Molly: The letter from the college came! Oli: That’s so exciting! What does it say? M: Dunno, haven’t opened it yet. O: Well, what are you waiting for? M: Here goes… O: Go on! What does it say? M: Dear Miss Phillips, we regret to inform you… O: Oh, no… I’m so sorry. M: “We regret to inform you that your application to was unsuccessful.” O: I’m so sorry you didn’t get in. I know how much you wanted it. M: Well, we’re here now, so we might as well get an ice cream. I was hoping it would be a celebration. O: I know, me too. Oh, no! It’s closed! M: What? Why? O: There’s a sign: “We regret to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances we will be closed until further notice.”
Communication from companies often use the phrase ‘we regret to inform you that…’
‘We regret to inform you that you were not selected for the interview’.
‘We regret to inform you that your insurance policy does not cover such situations.’
But what about everyday conversations? Perhaps you want to apologise to a friend or a sibling or a neighbour?
Molly: Oooh! Ouch! look what you’ve done, you’ve spilt hot coffee all over me! Oli: Oh! I am so sorry! Here, let me help… M: This shirt is ruined! O: I’m really sorry! That was so clumsy of me! Please let me pay for the shirt. It’s the least I can do. M: Sometimes I don’t know where your head is. O: I know, I really should pay more attention to my surroundings.
One of the simplest ways to say sorry is to say, ‘I’m sorry’. It’s neutral language which fits almost any situation.
However, if the incident is more serious, you could add a word like ‘very’ or ‘really’ for emphasis.
You can also make an apology sound stronger by emphasising the auxiliary verb. For example, ‘I *am* sorry’ sounds stronger than just ‘I’m sorry’.
Oli: I’m sorry, but I just don’t think your son is ready to play on the team yet! Molly: I don’t understand why you say that. He’s been working so hard and he’s improved a lot. O: He has, I can see that, but he’s still the weakest pitcher on the team. M: You should give him a chance. He may not be great at the game but he’s very enthusiastic. O: I’m sorry but that doesn’t make any sense at all. We have a championship coming up. M: Well, I’m sorry you see it that way…
You can see that ‘I’m sorry’ can be used in many different useful ways depending on the context. You can say ‘Sorry’ or ‘I’m sorry’ even in situations where you haven’t done anything wrong!
You can use it to disagree politely. For example: ‘I’m sorry, but what you’re saying isn’t logical’.
You can use it to introduce something you think the other person won’t want to hear; for example: ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t think James will qualify for the race this season’.
You can use it to express disappointment: ‘I’m sorry you won’t be joining us this evening!’
You can even say ‘I’m sorry’ to express sympathy when you hear sad news: ‘I’m sorry you haven’t been feeling well’.
Oli: Oh no! Are you alright? Molly: I’m okay… but, my car! It’s a complete write-off! What am I going to do! O: I am really sorry. It’s my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. M: How will I get to work? Oh, what a mess! O: I’m really very sorry. I’ll sort it out. Please give me your insurance details. I’ll have the car towed. Can I call you a taxi?
You heard before that you can use words like ‘really’ or ‘very’ together with ‘sorry’ to make your apology stronger. However, as you heard here, you can also use both words together for extra emphasis: ‘I’m really very sorry.’
If you not only want to apologise, but also take responsibility for something, you can say ‘It’s my fault.’
Oli: Hi, excuse me, hello, I think you’re in my seat. Molly: No, I don’t think so. This is 23A. And it says so on my ticket. O: May I have a look? Um, no… your ticket says 28A. That’s over there. M: I beg your pardon? O: I said: your ticket says twenty eight A. M: Oh, excuse me… my eyes and ears aren’t what they use to be. O: It’s quite alright. Do you need help moving your things?
‘Excuse me’ is mostly used to get someone’s attention, as in ‘Excuse me, but can I ask you a question?’
However, you might also use it as an apology in certain situations. It’s quite old-fashioned and formal when used in this way.
‘Excuse me’ can also mean ‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear what you said’.
You heard another formal phrase in the dialogue just now. Do you remember it?
You heard: ‘I beg your pardon’. This is a formal way of apologising. It’s rarely used in modern conversational English, but you might hear it. Sometimes people use it ironically.
Molly: Hello, Derek, thanks so much for coming to see me. Oli: Hello, Mrs Sanders. M: As you may have guessed, this is about the whole petty cash incident. O: Go on… M: Well, it seems we owe you an apology; the thief was caught this morning. O: That’s good to hear. I told you I didn’t take the money. M: Yes, you did, and I owe you a sincere apology for accusing you. O: Well, I appreciate the apology, but I was really hurt by the accusation. M: I know, I know. And for that, I apologise and hope we can move past it.
You can use ‘I owe you an apology’ when you realize that you’ve done something wrong and you want to put it right. You can also say it to other people if *they’ve* done something wrong. For example, if your child snatches a toy from another child you could say: ‘Kelly, I think you owe Neil an apology, don’t you?’
You can also use this phrase to demand an apology from someone else, by saying ‘I think you owe me an apology.’
We’ve now heard some ways to say sorry with different words and phrases. But sometimes, people apologise without actually using any of these words.
Oli: Why isn’t the environmental report on my desk yet? Molly: The internet was down again. I couldn’t do the research. O: I’m so tired of this service provider. I couldn’t even do my presentation yesterday. M: This has been going on for weeks now. We’re all falling behind on our work. O: Oh well, what can you do? We’re all so reliant on technology these days.
Apologies are sometimes given in an indirect way, without using words such as ‘I am sorry’, ‘or ‘please accept my apology’. Instead, people sometimes offer an explanation instead.
For example, in a city where public transportation is unreliable, coming late to a meeting and giving an explanation like, ‘The bus was late,’ might be perfectly acceptable. In a city known for its heavy snowfall, an explanation like ‘The snow was so heavy this morning I couldn’t get my car out of the driveway’ may be all you need to say.
Now, let’s see if you can take the language you’ve learned today and apply it to a real situation.
I can’t believe you missed the meeting!
Could you respond? What did you say?
There are many possibilities. But some are more appropriate than others. Maybe you were tempted to say ‘I’m sorry!’ – but is that really the best way to say sorry in this situation?
Let’s see how this may play out in the real world.
Molly: I can’t believe you missed the meeting! Oli: The bus was late and the traffic on Stevens Street was awful! M: That’s hardly an excuse. You should’ve made another plan. You know how important this meeting is for the company. O: I know. I apologise. I should’ve left home sooner. M: You really let me down. I thought I could rely on you. O: You can! I sincerely apologise. It won’t happen again. Maybe I can phone Mr Beach to try and reschedule?
By saying ‘I apologise’ and adding the word ‘sincerely’, you have a better chance of communicating just how much you regret missing the meeting. You could say ‘it won’t happen again’ to show your commitment to not making the same mistake again. Adding an offer to try and fix the situation may just show how much you care, and smooth things over with the boss.
So, you’ve seen many different ways to apologise. Why not put your new skills to the test right now?
I _ _ _ you an apology for accusing you without evidence.
We _ _ _ _ _ _ to inform you the park is now closed.
I _ _ _ your pardon, do you know where the ice-cream shop is?
_ _ _ _ _ _ me, I think you’re in my seat.
I _ _ apologise for being late.
I am _ _ _ _ _ _ sorry that I forgot our appointment.
I’m sorry. The accident was my _ _ _ _ _.
I _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ apologise for my outburst.
Pause the video and try to complete the phrases.
Could you do it? Need more time? You can take more time! Try to get as many answers as you can.
Let’s see the answers now.
I owe you an apology for accusing you without evidence.
We regret to inform you the park is now closed.
I beg your pardon; do you know where the ice-cream shop is?
Excuse me, I think you’re in my seat.
I do apologise for being late.
I am really sorry that I forgot about our appointment.
I’m sorry. The accident was my fault.
I sincerely apologise for my outburst.
How did you do? Did you get them all? Being able to apologise effectively is a skill that will be useful throughout your life.
I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson and learned different ways to say sorry in English. Thanks for watching!
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