Japanese

How to say sorry in Japanese. Casual and formal ways.

Some people say that Japanese people apologize more than people in other countries. You probably have heard your Japanese friends say sorry a lot.

This is because the Japanese respect good manners and value courtesy in their culture. Since Japanese people have solidified good manners in their culture from long ago, there are many expressions that mean “I’m sorry” in Japanese now. 

It’s going to be so much help for your good communication with Japanese people to learn some expressions of apologizing.

We’ll share various phrases on how to apologize in this article, and we hope it will help you learn expressions on how to say “I’m sorry.”

Learning points

  • The casual and formal way to say I’m sorry

  • Why do Japanese people say “I’m sorry” so much?

  • Native pronunciations 

How to say I’m sorry in Japanese

ごめんなさい
/ gomennasai /
I'msorry

ごめんなさい /  I’m sorry

The most common phrase is ごめんなさい (gomennasai).

You won’t have any problem in a daily conversation if you know ごめんなさい (gomennasai). But you shouldn’t use it for superiors because ごめんなさい is for people with equal footing.   

  • When you did something bad.
  • When you think you bothered someone.

すみません
/ sumimasen /
I'm sorry or excuse me

すみません / I’m sorry or excuse me

You can also say すみません (sumimasen) as I’m sorry. But it has different usages than ごめんなさい.

You can use すみません not just for people with equal footing, but also for superiors too.  You can also say すみません in many situations.

  • When you did something bad
  • When you want to ask something to someone. For example, asking directions to somewhere.
  • When someone gives you a seat on a train or a gift to you. When you want to say thank you, you can say this word.

If you know these two words, these will be all you have to know to say I’m sorry in Japanese. But if you want to say I’m sorry like a native speaker, it is important to learn other ways to say I’m sorry.

Let’s learn both the casual way and formal way to say I’m sorry in Japanese.

Casual ways to say I’m sorry in Japanese

ごめん or ごめんね
/gomen or gomenne/
I'm sorry

ごめん or ごめんね / I'm sorry

ごめん or ごめんね are casual forms of ごめんなさい. ごめんね sounds more tender than ごめん.

These words can be used for your family and your friends.

本当にごめん or 本当にごめんね
/ hontouni gomen or gomenne/
I'm so sorry

本当にごめん /  I’m so sorry

When you want to say "I'm really sorry," you can say 本当(ほんとう)にごめん (hontouni gomen).

わるい or わるいね
/ warui or waruine /
It's my bad

わるい or わるいね / It's my bad

わるい or わるいね can be said as “it’s my bad.” This phrase is used by men a lot, so if women say this phrase, it sounds too manly and rough.

This is an example of some gendered parts of the Japanese language. This might sound strange for a foreigner, but if you think about your own culture, there may be words or phrases that certain genders use more often.

Of course, we believe any gender can say any word, but it's important to be aware of the gender connotations when speaking a foreign language.

まじでごめん or まじでごめんね
/ majide gomen or gomenne /
I'm so sorry

まじでごめん or まじでごめんね / I'm so sorry

Japanese youth say まじでごめん (majide gomen) a lot. It is the most popular way to say “I’m sorry” for young people.

まじで (majide) means “seriously.”  It is said that まじで has been used as slang since 1980.

Japanese manner culture

Japanese culture highly values manners. This comes from samurai culture. In the samurai culture, people who are not well-mannered couldn’t get high up in their career, and sometimes people who were rude against superiors were killed by them.

The hierarchy was strictly defined in Japanese samurai culture, so good manners were important to succeed and protect people's lives.

This culture influences modern Japanese culture. Although you don’t need to be worried about being killed by superiors, it is useful to learn Japanese manner culture.

The formal way to say I’m sorry in Japanese

As described at the beginning of this article, ごめんなさい and すみません can be used in both casual and formal situations.

Those phrases are okay to say to your coworker but they're not good expressions to apologize to clients or superiors in a business situation. 

You can say the phrases as follows in a business situation.

申し訳ございません
/ mousiwakegozaimasen /
I’m sorry (formal)

もうわけございません / I'm sorry (formal)

もうわけ is “excuse” and ございません means “you don’t have.” So, (もう)(わけ)ございません literally means “I don't have any excuse.”

In a business email, on the phone, and at customer service, this phrase is mostly used.

If you feel really sorry, you can add 大変(たいへん) (taihen) before (もう)(わけ)ございません and say 大変(たいへん)(もう)(わけ)ございません (taihenmoushiwakegozaimasen).

失礼いたしました
/ shitsurei itashimashita /
I’m sorry (formal)

失礼(しつれい)いたしました / I’m sorry (formal)

失礼(しつれい)いたしました literally means "I was not well-mannered."

It is also a polite expression of an apology, but it sounds little lighter than (もう)(わけ)ござません.

When you want to apologize to your client or superiors for your small mistakes, you can say 失礼(しつれい)いたしました.

お詫び申し上げます
/ owabi moushiagemasu /  
I sincerely apologize

()(もう)()げます / I sincerely apologize

()(もう)()げます (owabimoushiagemasu) is a really polite way to say I’m sorry in Japanese.

()び (owabi) means apology and (もう)()げます (moshiagemasu) is an honorific form of ()う (iu/say).

You should use this phrase when you want to apologize from the bottom of your heart.

Summary

まとめ

ごめんなさい / I'm sorry
すみません / I'm sorry

【Casual】
ごめん(ね) / I'm sorry
すまん(ね) / I'm sorry
本当にごめん(ね) / I'm so sorry
わるいね / It's my bad
まじでごめん(ね) / I'm so sorry (slang)

【Formal】
申し訳ございません / I'm sorry
失礼いたしました / I'm sorry or excuse me
お詫び申し上げます / I sincerely apologize

-Japanese

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