English for Everybody - Elementary Course
Aw, that's all right, baby!

I'm really sorry...


An English saying goes "Sorry is the hardest word". This is not because it is hard to pronounce or spell, but because you have to admit that you have done something wrong.

In this section, we will see when and how you can say sorry; and what you should say when someone says sorry to you. Also, English people often say "sorry" when they are not even a little bit sorry.


First of all, sorry is not really a synonym for I apologise even though it is often used that way. Sorry is the word for how you feel when you wish you had not done something.
For example:
"It's really cold. I'm sorry that I forgot my jacket".
"I'm sorry I stayed up so late last night. I'm really tired now."

Notice that in these sentences the speakers are not apologising for anything, just wishing that they had not done it.


But often you wish you had not done something because it has upset somebody.
For example:
"I am sorry that I was late".
"He is sorry that he was so rude".

Because you are unhappy about upsetting someone, this is a sort of apology. You can say this in other ways too.
For example:
"I feel bad about what I said yesterday."
"I'm really angry with myself for this."

Regret is often used in more formal types of apology.
For example:
"BritRail regrets to announce that the 7.15 to London is late (again). "
"Miss Otis regrets she can't come to lunch today."

The noun "apology" or the verb "apologise" (or "apologize") is usually used formally.
For example:
"Mr Jones sends his apologies for not attending the meeting".
"We apologise for the delay in answering your call."
"Please accept our apologies for this error."

Things to say with apologies.

Apologies are often followed by excuses. An excuse is something you offer to show that what you have done wrong was not really your fault - or at least that you did not mean to upset someone.
For example:
"Sorry I am late - I couldn't find a taxi."
"I'm sorry, I did not know this was your seat."

Sometimes you can apologise and explain together with I'm afraid. (Which doesn't have anything to do with being scared when you use it like this.)
For example:
"I'm afraid I'm going to be late. I didn't wake up on time."
"I'm afraid I've lost our tickets. I don't know where I put them"

With apologies you can say directly that you did not intend to upset someone.
For example:
"I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry."

Sometimes you can ask a question to show that you did not know you were doing something wrong until that moment.
For example:
"Oh, am I late? I'm sorry."
"Is this your seat? Oh, I do apologise."
"Did I tread on your foot? I'm sorry. Are you all right?"

You can also put in extra words to sound more sorry.
For example:
"I'm sorry"
"I'm very sorry."
"I'm really very sorry."

Excuse me

You say sorry after you have done something wrong, excuse me if you are about to do something that might cause someone else a problem. (In US English excuse me is also used to say sorry.) The only extra word to make excuse me stronger is please.
For example:
"Excuse me, can I come past?"
"Excuse me please, could you move your car?"
"That was a bit rude" - "Oh, excuse me."

I'm not really apologizing.

Sometimes we apologize to be polite, even if we are not really sorry.
For example:
"Excuse me, I think that is my seat."
"I'm sorry, but I don't agree with you."
"I am afraid that is impossible."

Another example is when we can't hear or understand someone. Here you can also use I beg your pardon (or just pardon), which is an older form of apology which is now usually used only when you have not understood what someone has said.
For example:
"It's noisy in here" - "Eh? Sorry?"
"I'm diffgidi ddjja" - "Er I beg your pardon?"

Apologies are often used with refusals, or to give bad news.
For example:
"I'm sorry. I can't lend you ten pounds."
"I'm afraid the bar is closed now."
"Your car needs expensive repairs. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry to say that Fred can't come."

In English you apologise whenever you are causing someone any problem or if you have upset them, even if the thing is not very important. "Sorry" is usually said in a slightly higher voice than your usual speech, and it is often used with an excuse.

Receiving an apology.

You can do this graciously, or ungraciously.

Gracious acceptances include:
"That's ok" "No problem" "Don't mention it" (For small matters)
"It's quite all right" "It's not important." "Don't worry about it" (For more serious matters)

Ungracious acceptances of "sorry" . (For when you are still very angry.)
"You should be." "Well, that's not good enough" "Don't do it again" "Oh, all right then."

English people may sometimes refuse to accept an apology by pretending that it has not been given.
For example:
"I'm sorry I'm late." "Well, let's get started, shall we?"
"I'm sorry I lost it." "I'll go and get another one."

Or they can tell you (sometimes very rudely) to go away, which means that they do not accept your apology.

I'm sorry, that is the end of this part. I'm afraid you will have to click the blue arrow to go on. We apologise if there is anything you still don't understand, but we have tried to explain. (But you can always ask the Prof!)

Let's go!