Grammar Note: You will notice the prefix o/go- お・ご in front of many phrases discussed in this lesson. This prefix is an honorific marker which helps make what it attaches to be more respectful. Much later on, we will learn how to use this constructively.
The basic translation of “I’m sorry” in Japanese is sumimasen すみません. This word can also be used to mean “excuse me.” When the apology is for something that occurred in the past, you use sumimasendeshita すみませんでした. Many speakers drop the first /m/ in the phrase, resulting in suimasen すいません. In plain speech, this can be seen as sumanai すまない or suman すまん. To organize its conjugations together, we get the following.
|Plain Non-Past||Polite Non-Past|
|Plain Past||Polite Past|
Etymology Note: This word comes from the negative form of the verb sumu 済む. In this expression, the meaning of “to feel at ease” is at play here. Essentially, the speaker is guilty for what’s going on.
Excuse me, excuse me.
Sumimasen, tōshite kudasai.
Excuse me, could you let me through?
Machigaete shimatte sumimasen.
I’m sorry for messing up.
Konran sasete (shimatte) sumimasen.
I’m sorry for confusing you.
Sumimasen, o-jikan yoroshii desu ka?
Excuse me, but could I take a little bit of your time?
Excuse me! Check, please!
I’m terribly sorry for what had happened.
The next phrase involving apologies to look at is the word shitsurei 失礼, a noun/adjectival noun meaning "impoliteness/discourtesy." By itself, it can be used to mean “excuse me” when leaving, but it is usually seen as shitsurei shimasu 失礼します in this regard. In the past tense as shitsurei shimashita 失礼しました, the phrase is used a lot for apologizing for what one has done. To summarize its conjugations, they would be organized as such.
|Plain Non-Past||Polite Non-Past||Humble Non-Past|
|Shitsurei (suru) 失礼（する）||Shitsurei shimasu 失礼します||Shitsurei itashimasu 失礼いたします|
|Plain Past||Polite Past||Humble Past|
|Shitsurei shita 失礼した||Shitsurei shimashita 失礼しました||Shitsurei itashimashita 失礼いたしました|
Grammar Note: We will look at its use in the non-past tense more closely later in this lesson.
Intonation Note: The intonation of shitsurei 失礼 is しつれい.
Chōbun shitsurei shimashita.
I apologize for the long message.
Shitsurei shimashita. Mōshiwake arimasen.
I was rude. I’m terribly sorry.
Mōshiwake arimasen 申し訳ありません
In Ex. 10, yet another expression for “sorry” was used: mōshiwake arimasen 申し訳ありません. This literally means “have no excuse.” It is more formal than sumimasen すみません, but it can in fact be altered to be used in any speech style.
Mōshiwake nai desu
Grammar Note: Alternatively, there also exists mōshiwake naku zonjimasu 申し訳なく存じます, which is the most formal one can make this expression. This adds a sense of “feeling apologetic” on top of actually making an apology.
Of course, these expressions all have past tense forms that are used whenever one’s impolite act occurred in the past.
Mōshiwake nakatta desu
| 申し訳ございませんでした |
O-isogashii tokoro, taihen mōshiwake gozaimasen.
I deeply apologize for this while you’re busy.
Senjitsu no bōnenkai de wa, yoi ni makasete taihen na (go-)burei wo shite, mōshiwake arimasendeshita.
At the year-end party the other day, I let alcohol get the best of me, in which I was very out-of-place, and I deeply apologize.
Grammar Note: Burei 無礼 is a noun/adjectival noun which means “impoliteness” just like shitsurei 失礼. Here, it’s used in its own verbal construct in go-burei wo suru ご無礼をする. Some feel that the use of the honorific prefix go- ご is inappropriate in this construct, and so many speakers omit it from this phrase.
Tabikasanaru shitsurei, taihen mōshiwake gozaimasendeshita.
I am terribly sorry for how I’ve repeatedly been discourteous.
O-kyaku-sama ni wa taihen go-meiwaku wo o-kake-shite moshiwake gozaimasen.
We are terribly sorry for the trouble we’ve placed on customers.
Sentence Note: Even though the offense to customers would have been done in the past, the use of the non-past tense instead emphasizes the speaker’s current sense of guilt.
Itsumo nanika to go-muri wo o-negai shi, mōshiwake naku zonjimasu.
I am really sorry that I keep asking you to do me favors.
Sentence Note: The (adjectival) noun muri 無理 used here to mean “favors” literally means “unreasonable.”
In very formal situations, speakers will also use a form of the phrase o-wabi (wo) shimasu お詫び（を）します. O-wabi お詫び means "apology," and it can either be treated as a noun or a suru-verb. Below are its most important forms along with example sentences.
|Humble||More Humble||Most Humble|
O-wabi wo itashimasu
O-wabi (wo) mōshiagemasu
Kasanegasane, o-wabi (wo) mōshiagemasu.
I sincerely apologize again.
Kinō no shitsurei wo o-wabi shimasu.
I apologize for my rude behavior yesterday.
Kanri no futegiwa wo o-wabi itashimasu.
I apologize for managerial awkwardness.
Ikue ni mo o-wabi wo itashimasu.
I cannot apologize enough.
Phrase Note: Ikue ni mo 幾重にも literally means "repeatedly."
Dore hodo kokoro no naka ni o-wabi no kimochi ga atte mo, sore wo katachi ni shinakereba, aite ni wa tsutawaranai.
No matter how many apologetic feelings you have inside, if you don't have it take form, then it will not come across to the other person.
In addition to the phrases above, there are other verbs that mean "to apologize" that must be looked at. These verbs are as follows.
|Ayamaru 謝る||This is the basic verb of describing the act of apologizing.|
|Wabiru 詫びる||Synonymous with above but limited in usage.|
|Shazai suru 謝罪する||Formal/refined version of ayamaru 謝る.|
|Chinsha suru 陳謝する||Formal variant of shazai suru 謝罪する used especially in writing.|
Kentarō wa gaiken de wa ayamatte iru ga, [ayamaru/o-wabi no] kimochi ga issai kanjirarenai.
Kentaro may be outwardly apologizing, but I feel absolutely no feeling of remorse.
Sensei ga ayamatte kuremasen.
My teacher won't apologize.
O-namae wo kakimachigaeta koto wo chinsha [shimasu/itashimasu].
I/we apologize for misspelling your name.
Konkai no ken wo genshuku ni uketome, chinsha itashimasu.
We are solemnly coming to grips with this case and apologize (for what has happened).
Kore made ni dareka ni shazai (wo) shita koto wa arimasu ka?
Is there anyone you have apologized to up to now?
Burei wo dogeza shite wabiru.
To kneel down on the ground and apologize for an offense.
The next phrase to learn about is gomen-nasai ごめんなさい. It is generally used towards people you’re familiar with. Knowing the person and not necessarily being above or below the person in social status are key points to using this phrase properly. Casually, it’s shortened to gomen ごめん.
Spelling Note: This phrase is occasionally spelled as ご免なさい or 御免なさい.
Intonation Note: The intonation of this phrase is ごめんなさい.
Hontō ni gomen-nasai.
I’m really sorry.
Gokai ga attara, gomen-nasai.
I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding.
A, gomen. Daijōbu?
Oh, sorry. Are you alright?
Another means of saying “sorry” is by using the adjective warui 悪い. This is done in casual conversation among friends. In this situation, it is frequently pronounced as warii わりぃ.
Oh, my bad.
Sorry to Impose
The phrases kyōshuku [desu/de gozaimasu] 恐縮｛です・でございます｝ and osoreirimasu 恐れ入ります are used interchangeably to mean “I’m sorry to impose.” They may also be used in the sense of “feel obliged” when the context is one where the speaker is imposing by accepting favor/consideration.
Go-tabō no tokoro, kyōshuku desu.
I’m sorry to impose when you’re very busy.
O-hanashi-chū, taihen kyōshuku de gozaimasu.
I’m terribly sorry to impose while you’re talking.
O-kizukai itadaki, makoto ni osoreirimasu.
I feel truly obliged that you were concerned.
I apologize (for my rudeness).
Entering and Parting
Whenever one is entering a room or leaving a room, the phrase shitsurei shimasu 失礼します can be heard. For the former situation, it is common whenever one is clearly having to interrupt or disturb someone. For the latter situation, it is always used when leaving someone. It is also commonplace to hear when hanging up on the phone.
Shitsurei shimasu, o-tesuki desu ka?
Excuse me, are you free?
Sentence Note: Alternatively, shikkei shimasu 失敬します can be heard used instead by superiors when parting with colleagues. Shikkei 失敬 is synonymous with shitsurei 失礼, but due to difference in cadence, it isn’t as widely used. It is deemed dialectical by some and is especially used in Nagoya.
When entering someone's home, room, office, or entryway, speakers will say o-jama shimasu お邪魔します to that person. The noun jama 邪魔 means hindrance, implying that one’s presence can be perceived as intruding on that person’s turf. It can be used in the past tense whenever one feels it’s necessary to leave after having clearly inconvenienced the other person. Or, it can also be seen in the progressive form, especially by those in cleaning services when workers are busy tidying up your space despite you having arrived.
Excuse me for disturbing/interrupting you.
O-jama shite orimasu.
I apologize for being in the way.
I’m sorry for having disturbed you.
When entering someone's place without that person having not come to great you, it is customary to say gomen-kudasai ごめんください. An even more formal form of this is gomen-kudasaimase ごめんくださいませ, but this form is actually more commonly used as a means of hanging up in the customary service industry as a far more polite version of shitsurei shimasu 失礼します.
Gomen-kudasai. Tanaka-san, irasshaimasu ka?
May I come in? Are you there, Tanaka-san?
I’m hanging up now./May I come in?
Go-kigen yō 御機嫌よう
There is one last phrase to cover. Some speakers will use go-kigen yō 御機嫌ようwhen both crossing paths with people and when parting with people. In English, it is akin to “how do you do?” and “adieu.” This phrase is mostly used by women.
How do you?/Adieu.
Giving condolences in Japanese is a very sensitive topic. The standard phrase for saying “my condolences” that even some Westerners know is o-ki no doku ni お気の毒に. However, it is a phrase that shouldn’t be used directly to the person involved, or at least not as is, because it will otherwise be taken to be sarcastic or apathetic. The phrase literally means “poison to one’s heart,” and so although it is meant to show empathy towards those that are going through misfortune and/or suffering, using it must be done so with the utmost sincerity.
Because it is such a problem using this phrase as is, many speakers opt for o-ki no doku-sama [desu/deshita] お気の毒様｛です・でした｝. There is hardly any difference between the non-past and past tense forms in many circumstances. Although the past tense is the appropriate form when the misfortune has happened in the past, the non-past tense is best when you wish to make further commentary with those involved.
Kono tabi wa makoto ni o-ki no doku-sama desu.
Please accept my sympathy at this time.
Sentence Note: This sentence would most likely be used to people who are close and/or related to someone that has gone through a great misfortune and/or death.
Jiko ni awareta to wa, o-ki no doku-sama deshita.
I am terribly sorry to hear that you were in an accident.
My deepest sympathy.
Sentence Note: This phrase is used especially at funerals to the deceased person’s relatives.
Another important phrase used toward people who have gone through a terrible loss or misfortune including the loss of a loved one is go-shūshō-sama [desu/de gozaimasu/deshita/de gozaimashita] ご愁傷様｛です・でございます・でした・でございました｝. The use of the past tense is typically used most often when this is all the speaker can think of that's appropriate to say, whereas the use of the non-past tense is best used when the speaker feels compelled to speak more about the matter. Having said all this, it is still very important that you handle the matter with grace and utmost respect so that the listener will not perceive your words to be insincere or sarcastic.
My deepest sympathy.
Kono tabi wa makoto ni go-shūshō-sama de gozaimasu.
My truest and deepest sympathy goes out to you at this time.