How to apologize

Today I’m going to tell you what to say in English when you want to apologize (извиниться), and what to say in reply to an apology. Apologizing is one of the most important behaviour rules and language skills in English. In order to make a good impression on your English hosts, you need to apologize everywhere: in the street, on the bus, at the hairdresser’s, at your friends’place, in the theatre and in the conference-room. Going out and coming in. ’Sorry’ is a kind of a password which should always be on the lips of any foreigner moving amongst the English people.’Sorry’ prepares a path (проход), excuses faults, calms nerves so that we can all be jolly together and not get upset.


Apologies Replies to apologies
for something small and unimportant
I’m sorry.
I’m so sorry.
That’s alright.
That’s OK.
No problem. (USA)


When people say ‘sorry’ apologizing for something small, they can be answered ‘sorry.’
For example, if you bump into somebody (столкнулись с кем-то):

You: Sorry.
Passer-by: Sorry.

More serious apologies Replies to apologies
I am sorry (stress am)
I’m extremely sorry.
I’m terribly sorry.
I’m awfully sorry.
I’m awfully sorry, it’s my fault (вина).
That’s quite alright.
Never mind.
No problem at all.
Don’t worry (about it).
It’s not really your fault.

When to use ‘Excuse me’

1. Before you disturb somebody, for example:

- Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Piccadilly?
- Excuse me, could you tell me the time, please?

2. To attract somebody’s attention when you do not know the person’s name:

- Excuse me... !

3. After you have sneezed, coughed, etc… By the way, do you know how to react when a person apologises for having sneezed? In Russian you say (‘будьте здоровы’), the English in this case say ‘Bless you’ or more seldom ‘God bless you’ (благослови Господь). Of course, in both cultures it is alright to pretend not to notice sneezing and not to say anything if it happens during a meeting or another big gathering.

What to say: ‘Excuse me’ or ‘Sorry?’

The basic rule for ‘Excuse me’ and ‘Sorry’ is: we say ‘Excuse me’ before we do something, we say ‘Sorry’ after we have done something. But there are some exceptions to this basic rule.

If you are late, you should apologize, by saying:

Informal Formal
I(I’m) sorry I am late. Excuse my being late.
Excuse me for being late.
Sorry to have kept you waiting.

If you interrupt somebody, you could say:

Informal Formal
Sorry to interrupt you. Excuse my interrupting you.

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© 2012 Школа Китайгородской