Japan is a nation where ostensive humility prevails over and over over virtually any other social norm. Japanese people show up to say some variant of the word ‘sorry’ at practically every juncture throughout their day—even as soon as they have done nothing wrong!

However, it might surprise you to recognize that over there is no one word used universally to average ‘sorry’ in Japanese, and also choosing which word to usage for i beg your pardon occasion deserve to be a little of a minefield for foreign speakers at times. With offering an apology being together a virtuous act, it’s essential to acquire it right.

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Being a too-big-for-japan clumsy foreigner method that when I’m in Japan, I uncover myself apologising points left, right and center, an interpretation that i’m probably much more acquainted than most with the myriad of various ways of saying ‘sorry’ in Japanese.

We’ll first look at every-day ways to say i m really sorry in Japanese, then explore more formal apologies to strangers and also in professional setting.

How do you say i m really sorry in Japanese?

The all-rounder

The word for ‘excuse me’ in Japanese is すみません, and it is used a lot. If you looking to ask someone to move so you can gain off a train, record the fist of a cashier, or simply do something that involves a slight adjust to the circumstances of another versus their will, you say すみません. The word comes from sumu (済む, come end), and also literally way ‘it hasn’t ended’, definition that you are indebted for your interlocutor’s forgiveness or kindness.

すみません。Sumimasen.Excuse me.You have the right to use すみません when you no quite record what somebody said, as with we would certainly say ‘sorry’ in English.

すみません、もう一度?Sumimasen, mou ichido?I’m sorry, when more?It’s tough to describe quite exactly how much you going come hear すみません once you hear to Japanese human being interact. I even captured my girlfriend say すみません when the toll roadway attendant gave her earlier her change, through absolutely nothing to apologise for. If in doubt, simply say すみません when interacting with shop staff, terminal attendants and strangers, and also you’ll probably not be speak it enough. It deserve to mean anything indigenous ‘sorry’ to ‘excuse me’ to ‘thank you’, so you’re rarely going to sound impolite by saying it at any occasion.

That said, there room some much more nuanced and particular uses the this word, that room actually used when apologising.

If you want to apologise because that something, climate you have the right to use the て-form of the verb or で v nouns.

遅れてすみません。おくれてすみません。Okurete sumimasen.Sorry because that being late.返事を出さないでいてすみませんでした。へんじをでさせないでいてすみませんでした。Henji wo desasenaideit esumimasendeshita.Sorry ns couldn’t have actually replied.すみません is good as that can even be offered for formal, organization scenario Japanese.

お話の途中ですみません。おはなしのとちゅうですみません。Sorry for interrupting your conversation.遅刻してすみません。ちこくしてすみませんI’m sorry because that being late.

The Japanese ‘sorry’

Look up ‘sorry’ in a good Japanese dictionary, and also you’ll most likely see ごめんなさい as the first entry. This is a pretty good starting point for when you actually want to to speak ‘sorry’ come somebody. You’ve borrowed somebody’s pen, and then shed it—the an initial thing you’re going to desire to to speak is ごめんなさい. Trodden top top somebody’s foot? ごめんなさい should be her instinctive reaction.

あ、ごめんなさい。大丈夫ですか?あ、ごめんなさい。だいじょうぶですか?Ah, i’m sorry. Are you okay?You have the right to strengthen this v 本当に (ほんとうに), meaning ‘really’ or ‘truly’.

当にごめんなさい。痛いですか?ほんとうにごめんなさい。いたいですか?I’m really sorry. Does it hurt?However, ごめんなさい comes through a caveat, the it’s not really taken into consideration to it is in formal. In day-to-day situations it’s a for sure bet, but try and use something else if you’re speaking to a sennpai (先輩, an elderly at occupational or school) and also in any type of kind of officially writing.

If you’re on very an excellent terms v somebody, and you don’t have that much reason for apology, you can shorten this word to the much much more casual ごめん, or more likely ごめんね. If you’re 5 minutes so late for conference somebody in ~ a station, you might probably apologise this way.

待たせてごめんね、電車が5分に遅れていた!またせてごめんね、でんしゃがごふんにおくれていた!“Sorry to keep you waiting—the train was five minutes late!”

Advanced Japanese apologies

The expressions we looked in ~ above, although they can be offered in some an ext formal contexts, were really best suited because that every-day ‘low level’ apologies, and ‘apologies’ that were said as a matter of course and also custom. However, as soon as speaking Japanese it is an especially important to apologise in the right means in professional contexts.

Photo by kumozo

Let’s take a look at part expressions and also vocabulary the you would usually hear in a much more formal setting or v strangers.

“I’m gift rude”

This expression, just like すみません is an pure gem if you want to sound yes, really Japanese by apologising without having done something wrong: 失礼します (しつれいします, ns being rude). A great translation is more than likely ‘excuse me’, together it’s offered in instances once you’re viewed to be bring about a boy nuisance to somebody else.

When walking right into a room whereby there is some task going on, a weak under-the-breath 失礼します is pretty common, and also walking out of a room after having completed part activity, whilst leaving rather in the room (such together if you’re having to leave a conference early) is always preceded with a sincere feather 失礼します and also bow.

A similar expression is お邪魔します (おじゃまします, pardon me for disturbing you). The 2 are mostly interchangeable yet お邪魔します deserve to sound a tiny softer which makes it more popular in not blocked situations. In general, it’s finest to use 失礼します in business/formal instances (e.g., as soon as entering someone else’s office), and also お邪魔します in more private situations, together as when visiting a friend’s house.

Note the when supplied right before leaving, 失礼します stays in the existing tense, vice versa, お邪魔します changes to お邪魔しました.

Don’t be fear to to speak 失礼します once in public, together as acquisition a suitcase ~ above a train, or also passing v people. Ns have additionally heard it said when human being are handing money to shopkeepers, however it appears that it may come across as a little peculiar when foreign civilization say it.

Politeness levels in company Japanese

A little an ext formal

So much we have covered means of apologising for little mistakes and also minor inconveniences. However, the is valuable to know exactly how to actually apologise for something relatively serious have to the require arise.

A an excellent starting suggest is 申し訳ない (もうしわけない, the inexcusable)which of course is usually supplied in the polite Vます form.

申し訳ありませんもうしわけありません。I’m very sorry.To speak what you are sorry for, usage the Vて form of a verb, or で prior to a noun.

不注意で本当に申し訳ありません。ふちゅういでほんとうにもうしわけありません。I’m truly sorry for no taking suitable care.This is also used by those in the organization industry in this kind of fashion:

大変お待たせして申し訳ありませんでした。たいへんおまちたせしてもうしわけありませんでした。I’m an extremely sorry because that making you wait for so long.

Don’t forget the すみません is still offered in formal situations, we just need to dress it up a little. For example, for excusing yourself from resulting in somebody trouble, you have the right to use the word menndou (面倒, trouble, difficulty) came before by the honorific ご.

ご面倒を掛けてすみません。ごめんどうをかけてすみません。Sorry for causing you trouble.Last yet not least, you deserve to make 失礼します and also お邪魔します an ext formal by an altering them come 失礼いたします and also お邪魔いたします respectively.


Saying the you remorse something is a slightly much more nuanced way of apologising, so need to be approached with care if she seeking to present remorse to somebody.

後悔しています。こうかいしています。I regret what ns did.パーティーに行かなかったことを後悔していました。パーティーにいかなかったことをこうかいしていました。I to be sorry (I feel bad) that ns didn’t go to the party.

A note about bowing

With almost every one of these expressions, a bow is a must. Tiny apologies together a issue of formality room accompanied through a small bow the the head. Sincere apologies will certainly express remorsefulness v a solemn deep and long-lasting bow.

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A courier driver who yielded my suitcase after ~ it to be delayed in ~ the airport go as far as kneeling ~ above the floor and also bending over because that a long and also awkward bow. I think that used every one of the over phrases three or 4 times before leaving me through my bag. Apologising is a large deal in Japan.