How to say sorry in Japanese: Formal and informal ways (2023)

Knowing how to say "sorry" in Japanese is especially important as Japan is known as one of the most respectful cultures in the world. The culture focuses on understanding and compassion. Because of this, it would be of great importance to understand how to properly apologize in different situations.

This article covers the different nuances of the Japanese language and how to understand and use them when saying "sorry" in Japanese. This article will also help first-time Japanese language learners as well as those who simply want to brush up on their skills. For those looking for more than just an opportunity to apologize in Japanese,AmazingTalkeroffers well-rounded Japanese courses by professionally trained tutors.

Table of contents

How to Apologize in Japanese: Informal Situations

Japanese can often be considered one of the most formal languages. While there is a high culture value of being decent, not everything is as formal as we might imagine. Let's look at some of the more relaxed, casual ways to apologize in a social setting; about friends or family.

1. Gomen - Sorry

This is one of the most used words and is perfect to use with friends or family. If you are late for an event or a meeting with friends, you could say:

Sorry for the delay - Osoku natte gomen'nasai

I'm sorry I'm late

(Video) 5 ways to say "I'm sorry" in Japanese (It's not only "Sumimasen"!)

2. Hontōni mōshiwakenai – Es tut mir so leid

A heartier version of the apology above. This could be used when you've made a mistake with a romantic partner or a really close friend.

Sorry to hurt your feelings - Kimochi o kizutsukete gomen'nasai

I'm so sorry I hurt your feelings

3. Watashi no warui – Mein Ubel

Very casual way of apologizing and best used in close circles of friends.

Meine Güte, ich habe nicht auf dich gehört – Watashi no warui watashi wa anata no iu koto o kikimasendeshita

My fault I didn't hear you

4. Sorry - Sumimasen - Sorry

Similar to„gomen nasai“, the difference; while„gomen nasai“is used solely to apologize for something you have done"sumimasencan also be used to get someone's attention. However, both are often used interchangeably.

Entschuldigung, ich komme über dich hinweg - Sumimasen, watashi wa anata o norikoeru koto ga dekimasu

Excuse me, can I come by you?

Es tut mir so leid – Mechakucha gomen'nasai

I'm sorry I messed it up

(Video) 5 Ways to say SORRY in Japanese language #shors

5. Excuse me - Shitsurei shimasu - Please excuse me

Shitsurei means literally"impolite"So„Shitsurei Shimasu“is a semi-casual way of saying sorry.


How rude! – Used when complaining about a rude person

6. Ottoto - whoops

Extremely relaxed and easy-going way of apologizing to friends and often used in humorous situations involving small insignificant mistakes.

Oops, I forgot to close the door - Otto, doawoshimeru no o wasuremashita

Oops, I forgot to close the door

7. Watashi no machigai – Mein Fehler

Perfect for using with friends when you may have incorrect information about a situation.

Mein Fehler, ich habe mich geirrt – Watashi no machigai watashi wa sore o machigaemashita

My mistake, I misunderstood

8. Shazai shimasu - I apologize

Used in either a formal or casual setting among friends and is the perfect way to say a more sincere apology to a friend.

I apologize for not calling - Denwa o kakenakatta koto o owabi shimasu

(Video) Apologize in Japanese| Different ways to say sorry in Japanese - Phrases | In Hindi | Edify lessons

I apologize for not calling

It is important to note the different uses of "gomen" and "gomen'nasai". The former is usually used to denote a more casual tone, while the latter is used for more formal situations.

How to apologize in Japanese: Formal situations

How to say sorry in Japanese: Formal and informal ways (1)

Now that we've covered how to apologize in more informal settings, it's time to turn our attention to a more formal way of apologizing. These examples are perfect for formal settings such as business or maybe dark occasions in dealing with authority figures. Japan is a nation steeped in culture, history and appropriate etiquette. It's important to be aware of these customs, whether you're just a passing traveler or planning to move to the country.

1. Excuse the Interference - Gomeiwaku o okake shite sumimasen - Excuse the Interference

This is perfect for situations where you're perhaps trying to find directions while traveling, or when you're at work asking for directions or clarity about an instruction.

2. Kore wa shitsureishimashita – Das war unhöflich von mir

Although it can be directly translated as "that was rude of me", it can also be translated as "sorry about that". This is a formal way of perhaps apologizing to a colleague if you met them without realizing they were in your way.

3. Go mendō o o-kake shite, sumimasen (Sorry for the inconvenience)

This can be seen as a great way to say sorry in an office setting when a colleague is performing a task that is genuinely helpful to you.

4. I can't help it - Mōshiwake arimasen - I feel terrible

A very formal way of apologizing, perfect for those in authority like the police or your boss at work.

5. Yurushitekudasai – Vergib mir bitte

An important key to politeness in Japanese culture is self-control. This phrase fits perfectly because when you've made a mistake, asking for forgiveness is considered much better than making a scene. This is perfect for authority figures.

6. Sorry - Kanbenshitekudasai - Please have mercy

This phrase is perfect for tough times with authority figures. It's a form of asking for forgiveness and is perfect when you feel like you've made a big mistake.

7. Sugoku gomen ne – I'm really very sorry

Although this expression is not considered to be entirely formal as it can be used among friends, it conveys a much deeper sense of regret and is therefore well suited to formal situations as well.

8. Benkai no yochi ga nai – Benkai no yochi ga nai – Es gibt keine Entschuldigung

This phrase is a way to show your remorse and deep understanding of your own actions. It can be used when you hurt a loved one or friend, but is also perfect for situations when you've messed up at work and you know there's no excuse.

(Video) “Pardon?” in formal Japanese

It's important to know how to say sorry in different environments, whether it's in Japan or not. However, it is doubly important as previously mentioned that Japan is a country with deep-rooted etiquette values, and if you don't adhere to them you can be viewed as an outcast by many groups. For language beginners, it is understandable that it can take some time to get used not only to the cultural but also to the language differences. However, it is worth making the effort as it could provide a leap in not only personal but also professional relationships and lead to a better quality of life in the country.

Saying sorry in Japanese can mean saying thank you

How to say sorry in Japanese: Formal and informal ways (2)

For English speakers, apologizing when thanking someone may seem counterintuitive. On the other hand, it is completely commonplace in Japanese culture. It is used in contexts where a service is provided. Use an apology to say thank you to someone who took the time and effort to perform the said action for you.

1. Gomen'nasai - Sorry

Perfect when receiving a gift or favor, this apology shows that you are aware of the fact and deeply grateful that the other person went out of their way to get you the gift or do you the favor.

2. Sorry - Sumimasen - Sorry

Although it can be used, for example, to get someone's attention; You try to get past them, this phrase is perfect when thanking someone for the inconvenience they may have had while performing an act for you. Also a polite way to say "thank you for your help".

3. I'm sorry - Mōshiwakenai - I'm sorry

Another great way to say thank you while apologizing for the inconvenience caused by doing something for them.

4. Gomeiwaku o okake shite - Sorry for the inconvenience

This is a more direct way of apologizing for the inconvenience caused and also thanking them.

Understanding how to apologize is important when integrating into different cultures. If you're from the English language, some of these cultural norms may not make sense to you, but it's important to learn why they were adopted and exactly how they're used. Sometimes thanking someone isn't as easy as a simple "thank you," but being able to do so in any language is a skill in its own right and an important one to master.

The Culture of Apology in Japanese Society

Japanese culture is characterized by a deep reverence for politeness, etiquette and manners. Therefore, it is important to understand where this cultural practice originated. In doing so, we will understand why say"Forgiveness"It's not always about actually apologizing, but sometimes thanking someone for their actions.

To understand this cultural phenomenon, it is important to understand that the Japanese strive for the most harmonious society possible. To prioritize the needs of the many over the needs of the few. It's not just about keeping the peace, it's also about building trust. If we look at it from the perspective of corporations and governments, the Japanese government and corporate culture have completely shifted to embrace these practices. This inspires confidence among the Japanese public and employees as it encourages a sense of ownership.

Now you can apologize as you mean it

How to say sorry in Japanese: Formal and informal ways (3)

By the end of this article, we hope to have provided all readers with a thorough understanding of Japanese language and culture. It also conveys the importance of being able to apologize when necessary. As you develop this skill, you can create better and deeper connections with others and with yourself.

The Japanese language is a wonderful stepping stone to understanding the deeper nuances of emotions. Learning Japanese will allow you to express yourself at a level you think is impossible with the limitations of the English language. We hope this article will encourage all non-Japanese speakers and practitioners of the language to continue learning. We encourage them to explore other world languages ​​as wellAmazingTalker.

(Video) 3 ways to say "You're sorry" in Japanese||Kaizen

Discover the answers to your language-related questions on AmazingTalker.


How do you apologize formally in Japanese? ›


Owabi literally means apology. If you are using this word to say sorry in a formal situation, you would either say お詫びいたします (owabi itashimasu) or お詫び申し上げます (owabi moushi agemasu). Unlike moushi wake gozaimasen, this is a strictly formal way to say sorry in Japanese.

Is sumimasen formal? ›

Sumimasen. This is one of the most common ways to apologize in Japanese! Sumimasen can be used in any kind of situation where you have to give a light apology, such as when you accidentally bump into someone. The past form sumimasen deshita (すみませんでした) makes this phrase more formal.

How do you say sorry informal? ›

6 Unique Ways to Say “Sorry” When You Make a Mistake
  1. 1 My apologies.
  2. 2 Pardon/pardon me/I beg your pardon.
  3. 3 Excuse me.
  4. 4 Mea culpa.
  5. 5 Oops/whoops.
  6. 6 My bad.
May 22, 2019

Is Gomenasai formal? ›

Informal and Formal Version

The word gomennasai is considered the dictionary form that means “I'm sorry,” and can be used as a formal apology. However, the shortened word, gomen (ごめん), is also heard frequently in daily life. Children and young people use this abbreviation as a colloquial way to ask for forgiveness.

Is Sumimasen more formal than Gomenasai? ›

"Sumimasen" is a little more formal than "Gomennasai." When you apologize to the higher or the senior, "Sumimasen" is used in general. Among the family members or close friends, it is common to use "Gomennasai." "Gomen ne" or "Gomen" can be used in a more casual case.

Is sumimasen polite? ›

The more polite and formal way to say sumimasen, or excuse me, you can use it alone or in the beginning of a phrase, such as “osoreirimasuga…” to mean “I'm sorry but…”


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