How to Apologize/Excuse Oneself in English

There is an old English phrase ‘Manners maketh man’. This means that displaying good manners and being polite to those around you can make you a better person.

British people are commonly stereotyped for having good manners, sometimes to a point of being ‘too polite’; apologizing for things excessively, and sometimes when they are not at fault.

Choosing the right words to apologize or excuse oneself can be tough. The famous singer-songwriter Elton John expressed this as he sang ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’. Our How To is here to help you find the right words to say.

Saying Sorry in English

The most common way of apologizing in English is by saying ‘sorry’ or ‘I’m sorry’. You can make your apology more emphatic by using adverbs, such as ‘very, so, terribly’.

For example

I’m so sorry…
I’m terribly sorry…

To explain why you are sorry you have to add ‘for’ or ‘about.

For example

I’m really sorry for taking your lunch Steve.
Terribly sorry about what I said last night.

Warning! ‘Sorry’ is an adjective, not a verb. You cannot say ‘I sorry’.

You can say sorry without using the words ‘I’m sorry’ by using the verb ‘to apologize’; to express regret for something that you have done wrong.

For example

I apologize for my terrible behavior.
I’d like to apologize for pushing you over.
I really must apologize for my bad manners.

Excusing Oneself in English

We use ‘sorry’ to apologize after we have done something wrong. If you think a future action may upset someone else, you can say ‘excuse me’.

We can excuse ourselves in the following situations:

  • When interrupting, approaching, or leaving someone.

For example
Excuse me, do you have the time?
Excuse me, can I reach across you to get my bag?
Excuse me, can you show me the way to the Science Museum?
Please excuse me for a moment while I make a quick phone call.

  • When you have done something impolite or embarrassing, such as burping or sneezing.

For example
Please excuse me, I think I have hay fever.

Test Your Knowledge

Which phrase is appropriate for each situation? (Choose: "Excuse me" or "I'm sorry") 

1. You have stepped on someone's foot.
2. You want to get the attention of a waiter.
3. You forgot to repay a friend who lent you money for lunch.
4. You were late for a meeting.
5.  Someone is in your way and you need them to move.

Check your answers in the English Activities Answer Key!

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