November 3, 2016

Sorry, But There’s More Than One Way to Apologise in English

2 minute read


You may have heard jokes about how often Brits (and Canadians) apologise. And it’s true! Whether it’s politeness or awkwardness, we can’t seem to stop saying sorry. In fact, if you walk down any busy English street, you’re likely to hear dozens of apologies before you reach your destination.

British people will say sorry for bumping into you, or when they need to get past you, in place of “excuse me” to get your attention, or to apologise because they didn’t see you trying to get past them or hear you trying to get their attention! They will apologise for being late, for being early, for taking too long to find their wallet, for talking too loudly or quietly. It’s not unusual for an English person to apologise to a lamp post that they have just accidentally walked into. We can’t help it – it’s automatic.

However, when you say sorry so often, it’s no surprise that there are many different ways to say it. In fact, there are different ways to say sorry depending on the situation, your relationship with the other person, and how sorry you really are. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Please accept my apology / Sincere apologies for…

This is a very formal way of saying sorry and usually you would see it written in a business email or a letter. For example: “Please accept my apology for rescheduling our appointment at such short notice.”

Often it’s also followed by a reason or excuse, like this: “Sincere apologies for taking so long to reply to your email, our team has been out of the office all week.”

I owe you an apology

This is something you would typically say or write to someone you know reasonably well, such as a colleague or a friend of a friend, when you have done something wrong or offensive to them. It’s a little too formal to use for a close friend, though.

For example: “I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that in the meeting. It was unprofessional.”

I hope you can forgive me

This is something you would only say when you have done something serious, or that has really hurt a person you are close to and care about a great deal. It sounds quite dramatic, so don’t use it for something small that you aren’t really very sorry about. Also, this would not be an appropriate thing to say to someone in a professional context, like your boss or teacher, because it’s a very emotional and intimate way of saying sorry.

For example: “I feel terrible for letting you down. I don’t want to lose our friendship and I hope you can forgive me.”

My bad!

This is more of an American expression, but it’s used more and more often in the UK. If you say “My bad!” Or “That’s my bad!” it means that you are responsible for the problem. It’s a way to say sorry about small things that aren’t very important. You’re sorry, but you don’t feel really, really guilty about it.

For example, “Why is the table wet?” “Oh that’s my bad, I spilt my coffee. I’ll clean it up!”


Have you heard any other ways of saying sorry and aren’t sure exactly what they mean or when to use them? Let us know in the comments section below!