第??課: Expressions of Apology

Apologizing to others is one of the most sensitive things that we do on a daily basis. Without proper grace and etiquette as well as sensitivity to the matter at hand, apologies can be interpreted as insincere. As such, more so than even the words that go into an apology, the way one conducts oneself is what's most important. Nevertheless, Japanese places a lot of intricacy into how one apologies. 
In the phrases introduced in this lesson, a lot of complexity will be had in differences among speech styles. This inevitably means confronting grammar that hasn't been fully introduced up to this point. For the purpose of this lesson, though, focus on the phrases that center around apologizing.  

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. 

Notation Note: High pitch morae are marked in bold and pitch falls are denoted by ↓. 

Apologizing: O-wabi お詫び 

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.

Intonation Notes:
1. すない.
2. すみません.

1. すみません、すいません。
Sumimasen, suimasen.
Sorry, sorry.
Excuse me, excuse me.

2. すみません、(とお)してください。
Sumimasen, tōshite kudasai.
Excuse me, could you let me through?

3. 間違(まちが)えてしまってすみません。
Machigaete shimatte sumimasen.
I’m sorry for messing up.

4. 混乱(こんらん)させて(しまって)すみません。
Konran sasete (shimatte) sumimasen.
I’m sorry for confusing you.  

5. すみません、お時間(じかん)よろしいですか。
Sumimasen, o-jikan yoroshii desu ka?
Excuse me, but could I take a little bit of your time?

6. すいません、お勘定(かんじょう)
Suimasen, o-kanjō!
Excuse me! Check, please!

7. 大変(たいへん)すみませんでした。
Taihen sumimasendeshita.
I’m terribly sorry for what had happened.

8. あ、{すまない・すまん}。
A, [sumanai/suman].
Oh, sorry.

Shitsurei 失礼

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 しれい.

9a. 長文失礼(ちょうぶんしつれい)しました。
9b. 長文(ちょうぶん)すみません。
Chōbun shitsurei shimashita.
ōbun sumimasen.
I apologize for the long message.

10. 失礼(しつれい)しました。(もう)(わけ)ありません。
Shitsurei shimashita. M
ōshiwake 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.

 Plain Casual Polite Polite Humble
 Mōshiwake nai
 Mōshiwake nai desu
 Mōshiwake arimasen
 Mōshiwake gozaimasen

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.

 Plain Casual Polite Polite Humble
Mōshiwake nakatta
Mōshiwake nakatta desu
Mōshiwake arimasendeshita
Mōshiwake gozaimasendeshita

11. おいそがしいところ、大変申たいへんもうわけございません。
O-isogashii tokoro, taihen mōshiwake gozaimasen.
I deeply apologize for this while you’re busy.

12. 先日(せんじつ)忘年会(ぼうねんかい)では、()いに(まか)せて大変(たいへん)な(ご)無礼(ぶれい)をして、(もう)(わけ)ありませんでした。
Senjitsu no bōnenkai de wa, yoi ni maka
sete 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.

13. 度重(たびかさ)なる失礼(しつれい)大変申(たいへんもう)(わけ)ございませんでした。
Tabikasanaru shitsurei, taihen mōshiwake gozaimasendeshita.
I am terribly sorry for how I’ve repeatedly been discourteous.

14. お客様(きゃくさま)には大変(たいへん)迷惑(めいわく)をお()けして(もう)(わけ)ございません。
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.

15. いつも(なに)かとご無理(むり)をお(ねが)いし、(もう)(わけ)なく(ぞん)じます。
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.”

O-wabi お詫び 

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 shimasu
 O-wabi wo itashimasu
 O-wabi (wo) mōshiagemasu

16. かさがさね、おび(を)もうげます。
Kasanegasane, o-wabi (wo) mōshiagemasu.
I sincerely apologize again.

17. 昨日(きのう)失礼(しつれい)をお()びします。
Kinō no shitsurei wo o-wabi shimasu.
I apologize for my rude behavior yesterday.

18. 管理(かんり)不手際(ふてぎわ)をお()(いた)します。
Kanri no futegiwa wo o-wabi itashimasu.
I apologize for managerial awkwardness. 

19. 幾重(いくえ)にもお()びを(いた)します。 
Ikue ni mo o-wabi wo itashimasu.
I cannot apologize enough. 

Phrase Note: Ikue ni mo 幾重にも literally means "repeatedly."  

20. どれほど(こころ)(なか)にお()びの気持(きも)ちがあっても、それを(かたち)にしなければ、相手(あいて)には(つた)わらない。 
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. 

21. 健太郎は外見(がいけん)では(あやま)っているが、{(あやま)る・お()びの}気持(きも)ちが一切感(いっさいかん)じられない。
ō 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. 

22. 先生(せんせい)(あやま)ってくれません。
Sensei ga ayamatte kuremasen.
My teacher won't apologize.   

23. お名前なまえ間違まちがえたことを陳謝ちんしゃ{します・いたします}。 
O-namae wo kakimachigaeta koto wo chinsha [shimasu/itashimasu].
I/we apologize for misspelling your name. 

24. 今回(こんかい)(けん)厳粛(げんしゅく)()()め、陳謝(ちんしゃ)いたします。 
Konkai no ken wo genshuku ni uketome, chinsha itashimasu.
We are solemnly coming to grips with this case and apologize (for what has happened).

25. これまでに(だれ)かに謝罪(しゃざい)(を)したことはありますか。
Kore made ni dareka ni shazai (wo) shita koto wa arimasu ka?
Is there anyone you have apologized to up to now?

26. 無礼(ぶれい)土下座(どげざ)して()びる。 
Burei wo dogeza shite wabiru. 
To kneel down on the ground and apologize for an offense. 

Gomen-nasai ごめんなさい

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.

27. 本当(ほんとう)にごめんなさい。
Hontō ni gomen-nasai.
I’m really sorry.

28. 誤解(ごかい)があったら、ごめんなさい。
Gokai ga attara, gomen-nasai.
I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding.

29. あ、ごめん。大丈夫(だいじょうぶ)
A, gomen. Daijōbu?
Oh, sorry. Are you alright?

"My Bad" 

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.

30. あ、わりぃ。
A, warii.
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.

31. ご多忙(たぼう)のところ、恐縮(きょうしゅく)です。
Go-tabō no tokoro, kyōshuku desu.
I’m sorry to impose when you’re very busy.

32. お話中(はなしちゅう)大変恐縮(たいへんきょうしゅく)でございます。
O-hanashi-chū, taihen kyōshuku de gozaimasu.
I’m terribly sorry to impose while you’re talking. 

33. お気遣(きづか)いいただき、(まこと)(おそ)()ります。
O-kizukai itadaki, makoto ni osoreirimasu.
I feel truly obliged that you were concerned.

34. ご無礼(ぶれい){しました・いたしました}。
Go-burei [shimashita/itashimashita].
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.

35. 失礼(しつれい)します、お手隙(てすき)ですか。
Shitsurei shimasu, o-tesuki desu ka?
Excuse me, are you free?

36. 失敬(しっけい)します。
Shikkei shimasu.
Excuse me.

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.

37. お邪魔(じゃま)します。
O-jama shimasu.
Excuse me for disturbing/interrupting you.

38.  お邪魔(じゃま)しております。
O-jama shite orimasu.
I apologize for being in the way.

39. お邪魔(じゃま)しました。
O-jama shimashita.
I’m sorry for having disturbed you.

Gomen-kudasai ごめんください 

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.

40. ごめんください。田中(たなか)さん、いらっしゃいますか。
Gomen-kudasai. Tanaka-san, irasshaimasu ka?
May I come in? Are you there, Tanaka-san?

41. ごめんくださいませ。
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.

42. 御機嫌(ごきげん)よう。
Go-kigen yō.
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. 

43. この(たび)(まこと)にお()毒様(どくさま)です。
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.

44. 事故(じこ)()われたとは、お()毒様(どくさま)でした。
Jiko ni awareta to wa, o-ki no doku-sama deshita.
I am terribly sorry to hear that you were in an accident. 

45. お()やみ(もう)()げます。
O-kuyami moshiagemasu.
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.

46. ご愁傷様(しゅうしょうさま)でした。
Go-shūshō-sama deshita.
My deepest sympathy.

47. この(たび)(まこと)にご愁傷様(しゅうしょうさま)でございます。
Kono tabi wa makoto ni go-shūshō-sama de gozaimasu.
My truest and deepest sympathy goes out to you at this time.