How to say “I’m Sorry” in Japanese – Proper Ways to Apologize

Today, we will learn how to say “I’m sorryin Japanese. It’s must-have knowledge of the Japanese language for good communication.A girl in a jumpsuit crying and a boy in a green shirt saying gomenasai.

We will also focus on the corresponding facts with apologies in Japan, the cultural difference between the Western world and Japan, and the tips to use the appropriate phrases on each occasion.

Apology Words in Japanese

The following five expressions are the most common expressions for “I’m sorry” in Japanese.

Even though they have かんじ (Kanji | 漢字 | Chinese characters) forms, Japanese people usually write them in ひらがな (Hiragana | 平仮名).

Among these, the first phrase, ごめん (Gomen), is a very casual way. On the other hand, the fifth phrase, もうしわけありません (Moushiwakearimasen), is a very polite way of apologizing.

  1. Casual form: ごめん (Gomen | 御免)
  2. Colloquial form: ごめんね (Gomen ne | 御免ね)
  3. Polite form: ごめんなさい (Gomennasai | 御免なさい)
  4. Polite form: すみません (Sumimasen | 済みません)
  5. Humble form: もうしわけありません (Moushiwakearimasen | 申し訳 ありま せん)

How to say “sorry” in Japanese

There are different ways to say “sorry” in Japanese, depending on to who you are apologizing. We’ve listed them below.

“Sorry” in Japanese (Casual)

To say “sorry” in Japanese casually is suitable if you want to express your light apology to close friends, families, and co-workers. However, they could be considered rude in certain formal situations.

The phrase ごめん (Gomen | Sorry) is the most common and universal word. It’s a very casual way to convey your apology and fits in many situations. The phrases below are marked with △ are mannish and rarely used among females.

To make some expressions a little more friendly, adding な (Na) / ね (Ne) / よ (Yo) at the end is an option. This trick doesn’t apply to しつれい (Shitsurei), though it is widely used. Still, some people consider ね (Ne) makes a word slightly feminine.

 I’m sorryごめん Gomen
 I’m sorryごめんね Gomen ne
 I’m sorry / My bad △ 悪い わるい Warui 
 I’m sorry / My bad △ * 悪かった わるかった Warukatta 
 I’m sorry, Excuse me / My bad 失礼 しつれい Shitsurei 
 I’m sorry / My bad △すまない Sumanai
 I’m sorry / My bad △すまん Suman
 I’m sorry / My bad △ *すまなかった Sumanakatta
 I apologize 謝るよ あやまるよ Ayamaru yo 

*past tense

“Sorry” in Japanese (Polite)

If you want to apologize in Japanese for something in a slightly formal situation, ごめんなさい (Gomennasai) and すみません (Sumimasen) are easy options. However, these two are not for all-purpose and only serve as light apologies.

Unlike some casual versions above, there is no gender difference in polite versions. You can use the following phrases in slightly formal situations, including in school, at a spontaneous meeting, and while traveling and shopping.

 I’m sorryごめんなさい Gomen nasai
 I’m sorryごめんなさいね Gomen nasai ne
 I’m sorry / Excuse meすみません Sumimasen
 I’m sorry / Excuse me *すみませんでした Sumimasen deshita
 I’m sorry /Excuse meしつれいします Shitsurei shimashita
 I’m sorry / Excuse me *しつれいしました Shitsurei shimashita

* past tense

Saying Sorry using Japanese Dialects

You can also encounter Japanese apology words that are said differently. These might be dialects from other parts of Japan. We’ve listed some of them below.

 I’m sorry, Please forgive me (Osaka) 堪忍 かんにん Kannin 
 I’m sorry (Miyazaki)わりかひなぁー Warrikahinaa
 I’m sorry (Okinawa)ワッサイビーン Wassaibiin
 I’m sorry (Aomori)めやぐ Meyagu
 I’m sorry (Nagano)かんな Kanna

The Cultural Facts About Japanese Apology

There is more to a Japanese apology than just saying you’re sorry. It is best to also observe the cultural facts surrounding it.

What is the Correct Way to Say Sorry in Japanese?

In Japan, most people use polite expressions called けいご (Keigo | 敬語 | formal form, honorifics) when they want to show some respect or courtesy to others.

Using Keigo is expected when talking to older people, superiors, and strangers, and having the fundamental knowledge is essential in everyday life conversation. Besides, plain or casual speech is more natural among families and in close relationships.

Japanese Forms in Everyday Conversations

In connection to honorifics, here are other types of conversations that you might encounter if you are communicating with Japanese people.

 formal form, honorifics 敬語 けいご Keigo 
 plain form 普通語 ふつうご Futsuugo 
 casual form タメ語 ためご Tamego 
 slang 俗語 ぞくご Zokugo 

How to Say I’m Sorry in Informal Situations?

Many native Japanese speakers use the expression ごめんなさい (Gomen nasai | I’m sorry) and すみません (Sumimasen | I’m sorry, Excuse me) in both standard forms and derived forms in everyday life conversations.

Light Colloquial Apology Examples

ごめんなさい (Gomen nasai) – Standard

 a shortened form of Gomen nasaiごめん Gomen
 slightly masculineごめんな Gomen na
 slightly feminineごめんね Gomen ne
 slightly masculineごめんよ Gomen yo
 slangごめんごめん Gomen Gomen
 slangめんご Mengo

すみません (Sumimasen) – Standard

 a shortened form of sumimasen, slightly masculineすまん Suman
 a shortened form of sumimasen, slightly masculineすません Sumasen
 slightly masculineすまない Sumanai
 slightly masculine, slangサーセン Saasen
 the most common colloquial wayすいません Suimasen
 slangすんません Sunmasen
 standard, past tenseすみませんでした Sumimasen deshita

How to Emphasize an Apology in Informal Situations?

Unfortunately, you can’t say すごくごめん (Sugoku gomen), いっぱいごめん (Ippai gomen), or とてもごめん (Totemo gomen) using well-known Japanese adjectives and adverbs with the meaning of very and a lot in Japanese.

Here is the list of the correct phrase to emphasize your apologies in Japanese.

 I’m truly sorry. 本当にごめん。 ほんとうにごめん。 Hontou ni gomen. 
 I’m really sorry. 本当にすみません。 ほんとうにすみません。 Hontou ni sumimasen. 
 I did something wrong and I’m very sorry for that. すごく悪いと思ってる。 すごく悪いと思ってる。 Sugoku warui to omotteru. 

How to Ask for Forgiveness in Informal Situations?

If you want to say sorry in Japanese to someone close to you, you can refer to the examples below on how to ask for forgiveness.

 Please forgive me. 許し て くだ さい ゆるしてください Yurushite kudasai 
 Please forgive me. Give me a break. 勘弁してください。 かんべんしてください。 Kanben shite kudasai. 
 I’m sorry, can you forgive me? ごめんね、許して? ごめんね、ゆるして? Gomen ne, yurushite? 
 I’m sorry, don’t get mad and please listen to me. ごめん、怒らないで聞いて。 ごめん、おこらないできいて。 Gomen, okoranaide kiite. 
 I’m very sorry, but please go easy on me this time. 悪かったよ、でも今回は多目に見てよ。 わるかったよ、でもこんかいはおおめにみてよ。 Warukattayo, demo konkai wa oome ni mite yo. 

How to Say “I’m Sorry” in Formal/Business Situations?

Undoubtedly, the most common ways to apologize in Japanese are ごめんなさい (Gomennasai) and すみません (Sumimasen). Even though they are widely used in a relaxed working environment as well as in some private scenes, they could be a little too casual on certain occasions.

The following expressions are polite and respectful forms appropriate for a sincere apology and can serve both in speaking and writing. You might hear these when a problem arises while working or traveling.

 I’m very sorry. 申し訳 ありま せん。 もうしわけありません。 Moushiwake arimasen. 
 I deeply apologize. 申し訳ございません。 もうしわけございません。 Moushiwake gozaimasen. 
 I apologize for the inconvenience. お詫び申し上げます。 おわびもうしあげます。 Owabi moushiagemasu. 

How to Express the Deepest Apologies in Formal/Business Situations?

If you want to emphasize that you’re sincerely apologizing from the bottom of your heart, use もうしわけご ざいません (Moushiwake gozaimasen) rather than もうしわけありません (Moushiwake arimasen).

You can express your sincere apologies by adding たいへん (Taihen | 大変 | very, terribly) or other expressions at the beginning of the sentence, too.

I'm/We're terribly sorry. 大変申し訳ございません。 たいへんもうしわけございません。 Taihen miroushiwake gozaimasen.
I sincerely apologize. 誠に申し訳ございません 。 まことにもうしわけございません。 Makotoni moushiwake gozaimasen.
I apologize for the inconvenience, and I'm/we're terribly sorry. ご迷惑をお掛けしてしまい申し訳ございません。 ごめいわくをおかけしてしまい、もうしわけございません。 Gomeiwaku wo okakeshiteshimai moushiwake gozaimasen.
I apologize. / I'm sorry about that. / My bad, Excuse me. 失礼いたしました。 しつれいいたしました。 Shitsurei itashimashita.
I deeply apologize. 深くお詫び申し上げます 。 ふかくおわびもうしあげます。 Fukaku owabi moushiagemasu.
I sincerely apologize. 誠に申し訳ございませんでした 。 まことにもうしわけございませんでした。 Makotoni moushiwake gozaimasen deshita.
I'm sorry for the inconvenience/ We apologize for any inconvenience. ご迷惑をお掛けいたしました。 ごめいわくをおかけいたしました。 Gomeiwaku wo okakeitashimashita.

Japanese Apologies in Formal/Business Situations

Here is a list of some useful Japanese apology expressions. Each phrase has several definitions, and you can use them in most situations to express your apology or gratitude.

Some of the words are called クッションことば (Kusshon kotoba | クッション言葉) and are used to mitigate the influence of the following bad news and relieve the listener’s tension. It’s also believed to make requests and suggestions less rude in Japan.

Examples of Other Japanese Apologies with Multiple Meanings

Some Japanese apology words have several meanings. Below are some useful examples.

1. おそれいります (Osoreirimasu | 恐れ入ります)

おいそがしいじかんにおそれいります。 (O isogashii jikan ni osoreirimasu. |お忙しい時間に恐れ入ります。)

I’m terribly sorry to bother you when you are busy.

おそれいりますが、スミスさんはいらっしゃいますか? (Osoreirimasuga, Sumisu san wa irasshai masu ka? | 恐れ入りますが、スミスさんはいらっしゃいますか?)

Excuse me, but is there Mr. Smith?

やさしいおことば、おそれいります。 (Yasashii o kotoba, osoreirimasu. | やさしいお言葉、恐れ入ります。)

I’m grateful for your kind words.

2. きょうしゅくです (Kyoushuku desu | 恐縮です)

おやくにたてず、きょうしゅくです。O yasuku ni tatezu, kyoushuku desu. | お役に立てず、恐縮です。

I’m afraid I can’t help you.

たいへんきょうしゅくですが、おなまえをうかがってもよろしいでしょうか?(Taihen kyoushuku desu ga, o namae wo ukagattemo yoroshii deshou ka? | 大変恐縮ですが、お名前を伺ってもよろしいでしょうか)?

Excuse me, but may I have your surname?

きょうしゅくですが、おことばにあまえさせていただきます。(Kyoushuku desu ga, o kotoba ni amaesasete itadakimasu. | 恐縮ですが、お言葉に甘えさせていただきます。)

Thank you very much. I will accept your kind offer.

3. しつれいします、しつれいいたします (Shitsurei shimasu, Shitsurei itashimasu | 失礼します、失礼いたします)

おへんじがおそくなり、たいへんしつれいいたしました。(O henji ga osokunari, taihen shitsurei itashimashita. | お返事が遅くなり、大変失礼いたしました。)

I’m very sorry for the late reply.

ほんじつはありがとうございました。では、こちらでしつれいいたします。(Honjitsu wa arigatou gozaimashita. Dewa, kochira de shitsurei itashimasu. | 本日はありがとうございました。では、こちらで失礼いたします。)

Thank you for taking your time today. Then, please Excuse me.

おさきにしつれいします。(O saki ni shitsurei shimasu. | お先に失礼します。)

I’m leaving for today. See you tomorrow.

ざんねんです (Zannen desu | 残念です)

ざんねんですが、こんかいはふさいようとなりました。(Zannen desu ga, konkai wa fusaiyou to narimashita. | 残念ですが、今回は不採用となりました)。

We have decided not to move forward with your application.

それはざんねんですね。かのじょがきのどくです。 (Sore wa zannen desu ne. Kanojo ga kinodoku desu. | それは残念ですね。彼女が気の毒です。)

That’s unfortunate. I feel sorry for her.

When do we say “I’m sorry” in English and in Japanese?

When do you say sorry in English? Your answer might be the time when you feel regret about something, but English has at least these definitions for the same phrase.

  1. feeling regret and unhappy about something
  2. causing someone sorrow, pity, and scorn
  3. asking someone for forgiveness
  4. expressing one’s sympathy and grief
  5. politely interrupting someone
  6. asking someone to repeat
  7. courteously disagreeing with someone’s opinion

Examples of Words of Condolence

Even though there is a cultural gap, people say “sorry” in Japanese in a similar way to the Western world.

Yet, the Japanese don’t say ごめんなさい (Gomennasai) to express words of condolence, and they often show their gratitude or surprise by saying ごめんなさい (Gomennasai) and すみません (Sumimasen). It might sound a little odd though it’s one of the natural habits in Japan.

Please accept my sincere condolences. お悔やみ申し上げます。 おくやみもうしあげます 。Okuyami moushiagemasu.
My condolences. ご愁傷さまです。 ごしゅうしょうさまです。 Goshuushou samadesu.
May their soul rest in peace. ご冥福をお祈りします。 ごめいふくをおいのりします。 Gomeifuku wo oinori shimasu.

Examples of Words of Gratitude and Surprise

Have you ever thought or heard that people apologize too much by saying すみません (Sumimasen) in Japan? The reason might be more simple than you think.

Some Japanese native speakers use すみません (Sumimasen | I’m sorry, Excuse me) instead of ありがとう (Arigatou | Thank you) to express gratitude. It’s word-wise wrong and not recommended to people who are learning Japanese, but it’s commonly heard.

This phrase doesn’t mean sorry but indicates the speaker’s caring attitude toward the other party who took the labor, funds, and time to do something for them.

Thank you very much, you took the trouble to bring it. ごめんなさい、わざわざ持って来ていただいてしまって 。 ごめんなさい、わざわざもってきていただいてしまって。 Gomennasai, wazawaza mottekite itadaite shimatte.
Thank you always. You've been a great help. いつもすみません、とても助かっています。 いつもすみません、とてもたすかっています。 Itsumo sumimasen, totemo tasukatteimasu.

Apology in Japanese Culture and Custom

In this last chapter on how to apologize in Japanese, we will learn about Japanese culture and customs related to apology. You might find some tradition sounds interesting, so let’s find out!

A girl with a sad expression holding a sign that says sorry

Gestures of Apologies

For a friendly and light apology, simply communicating with the Japanese word ごめん (Gomen) is most common. It’s also typical to raise one hand, put their palms together, or give a light bow while saying sorry.

When someone feels deeply regretful about something, a deep bow accompanies rather than hand gestures. The bowing at 45 to 90 degrees is called さいけいれい (Saikeirei | 最敬礼), and it implies the most courteous and sincere apology.

There is a kneeling and bowing called どげざ (Dogeza | 土下座) only for extreme cases. However, these bows can work as a sign of greeting and thanks.

During the Samurai era, the Japanese ritual of suicide called せっぷく (Seppuku | 切腹) was an act of apology to show their aesthetics, loyalty, and pride.

Related Vocabularies

Here are more related vocabulary to the common gestures displayed when apologizing.

bow お辞儀 おじぎ Ojigi
a light bow roughly 15 degrees 会釈 えしゃく Eshaku
a standard bow about 30 degrees 敬礼 けいれい Keirei
a deep bow between 45 degrees to 90 degrees 最敬礼 さいけいれい Sai Keirei
kneeling and bowing 土下座 どげざ Dogeza

Letters, Gifts, and Compensation

Like in the West, an apology letter is a way to acknowledge one’s mistake and make an apology meaningful. Apology letters are called おわびじょう (Owabijou | お詫び状), and apology messages are called しゃざいぶん (Shazaibun | 謝罪文) in Japanese.

When Japanese people formally apologize, they often bring かしおり (Kashiori | 菓子折り | confectionery gift) together with an apology letter or a message card.

Related Vocabularies

Below are other words related to apology in Japanese.

apology お詫び おわび Owabi
apology letter お詫び状 おわびじょう Owabijou
apology 謝罪 しゃざい Shazai
apology letter / apology message 謝罪文 しゃざいぶん Shazaibun
confectionery gift / sweets gift 菓子折 かしおり Kashiori
gift /souvenir 手土産 てみやげ Temiyage
consolation payment お見舞い金 おみまいきん Omimaikin
compensation 賠償金 ばいしょうきん Baishoukin
consolation money 慰謝料 いしゃりょう Osharyou
payoff money 手切れ金 てぎれきん Tegirekin

Wrap Up

Now you know how to say “sorry” in Japanese! From the most common, casual ways to the extreme and intense apologies — you’ve got it all covered now.

While some of these will be more useful to you in everyday life, it’s a good idea to learn all of them.

What would you like to learn next? Let us know in the comments below! In the meantime, you can learn more commonly used phrases in Japan in our article on Japanese phrases.

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