11 Great Ways to Express Sorry in Japanese

For every learner of a foreign language, knowing and understanding how to express “sorry” is extremely essential. Especially, for you as a Japanese learner. When you are master in how to say sorry in Japanese with such a deep genuine apology and match moment, you would be able to create great relationships with your Japanese friends.

Here for you to know, to express sorry in Japanese has very diverse ways. In the daily Japanese conversation, there are specific moments where we must be aware and straightly decide to apologize. Whether intentional or unintentional, considering our partners, we need to apologize to maintain our good circle relationships.

Not only for you who have started your journey to learn Japanese. The following phrase that represents sorry in Japanese would be very useful for you when you are traveling to Japan and just accidentally making a small or even for some notable mistake.

Specifically, the conditions for an apology in Japan would be quite different from your home country. We have summarized the 11 great ways and explained the situations for you on how to apologize and say sorry in Japanese therefore you would never be frozen in the uncomfortable situation that forces you to say sorry. Let’s learn the technique to express a Japanese apology.


1. Gomen (ごめん)

As you might often heard this phrase ‘gomen’ is very familiar and said in multiple times in Anime, please do not confuse. Not only saying ‘gomen’, you will hear they say ‘gomen ne’ or ‘hontouni gomen’ as well. One as well as the other ‘gomen’ and ‘gomen ne’ are the expressions of apology that come from the abbreviation ‘gomennasai’. This gomen or gomen ne express a more casual apology. This phrase is only used for or in family, a friend, best friend, close colleague, and sibling of the same age.

Although, saying this phrase is a very common way of expressing apology in Japanese, saying this phrase to your boss or someone with higher positions or ages than us is considered rude. Please do not misuse this phrase!

In English, for you to know the literal meaning of this phrase is as the following:

  • ごめん: gomen, sorry!
  • ごめんね: gomen ne, sorry please!
  • 本当にごめん: Hontōni gomen, really sorry!
  • 本当にごめんね: Hontōni gomen ne, really sorry please!

2. Gomennasai (ごめんなさい)

Gomen nasai is considered as definitely the most common way to express the apology in Japanese and is a sort of very comprehensive term. Compared with the gomen or gomen ne as its abbreviation, gomen nasai is more formal. Generally, when we say this phrase in a situation that calls for a different apologetic phrase, most Japanese speakers will know instantly what we mean and they would appreciate it.

However, similarly above with the gomen or gomen ne phrase, please keep in your mind that this phrase, Although very common and easy word, it’s considered rude to use this phrase to apologize to superiors! Additionally, this would be very heartfelt apology which usually used between best friends or between men and women who have special relationship.
The literal meaning of this phrase is as follows:

  • ごめんなさい: gomen nasai, sorry!
  • 本当にごめんなさい: hontouni gomennasai, really sorry!

3. Sumimasen (すみません)

Not only gomennasai, this phrase is considerably one of the most common ways to apologize in Japan in the everyday life as well. We can use this phrase as a light and useful apology when we have unintentionally stepped on someone for example when we just bump into someone on their way in the street or when we want to call staffs in the restaurant or supermarket.

Interestingly, “sumimasen” is also can be used to express a feeling of gratitude or thankfulness similar like arigatou. Why? It is because the original kanji (Japanese Character) or sumimasen which is (済みません) has original meaning in Japanese as “it cannot be settled/completed” that can be elaborated into the two following expressions below:

  • I cannot fully express my regretful for what had happened and I apologize.
  • I cannot thank you enough for giving such great efforts for me.

    The meaning of this phrase in English as follows:

  • すみません: sumimasen, sorry! Or excuse me!
  • すみませんでした: sumimasen deshita, I am sorry for what I did in the past (when the word ‘deshita’ is added, it means the word works as the past form in Japanese.)

4. Shitsurei itashimasu (失礼いたします)

The phrase “Shitsurei itashimasu” is originally come from the word “Shitsurei” (失礼) which means rude or literally “losing respect” in Japanese. Therefore, we can assume that this phrase means “I am sorry for my rudeness that might bother you”. This phrase is used when someone is intentionally or unintentionally skipped their promises for example missed the reservations for routine dental checks etc.

Then, the phrase “Shitsurei itashimasu” is a very polite form of the phrase “Shitsurei shimasu”. It is more polite in ascending order of politeness in the Japanese language rule. It is highly recommended to use this phrase in such a job or business relationship with your colleague. In addition, this phrase is also used when we enter someone’s room that might or hanging up the phone. The meaning of this phrase in English as the following:

  • 失礼: shitsurei, sorry for my rudeness.
  • 失礼します: shitsurei shimasu, I am sorry for my rudeness (follow ‘shimasu’ here that represents the verb in present form)
  • 失礼いたします: shitsurei itashimasu, I would like to say sorry for my rudeness (this is more polite expression following the word itashimasu at the end as the present form verb in Japanese)
  • 失礼しました: shitsurei shimashita, I was sorry for my rudeness last time (follow the word ‘shimashita’ that express the verb for the past form in the Japanese)
  • 失礼いたしました: shitsurei itashimashita, I profoundly said sorry for my rudeness beforehand (follow the word ‘itashimashita’ to express very polite apology for the past form)

5. Mōshiwake arimasen (申し訳ありません)

This sentence in Japanese is a polite and formal apology. Please note that this form of apology is usually used for very large mistakes. Since this phrase is a formal form of a polite apology, this phrase is commonly used in the business world, not in daily conversation.

In Japan, this expression is used for example by a CEO who makes mistakes with the products he produces that give such a big impact on others. This expression is often used by employees to their superiors as well for taking actions that violate the rules set by the company. The meaning of this phrase in English is as follows:

  • 申し訳ありません: mōshiwake arimasen, I am sorry it is very large mistake. This is the formal form for the present situation in Japanese.
  • 申し訳ありませんでした: mōshiwake arimasen deshita, similarly as above the meaning is I was sorry for the large mistake I made. Differently, there are ‘deshita’ forms that represent the past form in Japanese.

6. Mōshiwake gozaimasen (申し訳ございません)

Mōshiwake gozaimasen has a similar meaning to mōshiwake arimasen but this is more polite than mōshiwake arimasen. This greeting is generally used by CEO’s or company leaders who make fatal mistakes for example with such massive effects.

Mōshiwake gozaimasen is used to apologize to people who have a position above us, for example, our boss in the office or for customers, guests, and people whose positions are higher than us. This expression shows a great sense of remorse for having made a mistake. The meaning of this phrase in English is the following;

  • 申し訳ございません: mōshiwake gozaimasen, I am sorry it is very large mistake. This is the formal form for the present situation in Japanese.
  • 申し訳ございませんでした: Mōshiwake gozaimasen deshita, I was sorry for the large mistake I have done. The phrase uses ‘deshita’ that is the past form in the Japanese.

7. Yurushite kudasai (許してください)

This expression, ‘yurushite kudasai’ is the another option that is applicable to apologize. It means “please forgive me”. Thus, this expression is a form of regret for the mistakes someone has made. Unlike the other Japanese expressions of apology, this phrase is very straight to the point to ask for an apology. This expression is considered as a form of humility in making a person’s mistakes.

Yurushite Kudasai is a form of apology that comes from the word yurushi (許し) which means forgive. This phrase has many ways to use and can be broken down as the following;

  • 許してね:yurushite ne, please forgive me. This phrase using ‘ne’ at the end only use for someone with the same age with you or with your very close friend.
  • 許してほしい:yurushite hoshii, I want you to forgive me. Use this phrase to your love one or someone with very close relation with you.
  • 許して下さい:yurushite kudasai, Please forgive me. This phrase is can be used with the nuance more formal.

8. Warui (悪い)

After we have discussed a lot with very polite and formal expressions in apology, now let’s try this more casual phrase. Not only using gomen or gomen ne, here is another way of apologizing that is the least formal and can only be used for people who are already familiar with you. It is warui or warukatta.

Probably, you have heard this expression often in anime or drama, indeed sometimes this word is used on many occasions with light mistakes. In general, warui and warukatta have the meaning of “bad” or can be translated as “oh my bad”. It can be interpreted as well as “I’m sorry because I did something bad”.

  • 悪い: warui, sorry it is my bad. (present form)
  • 悪かった: warukatta, sorry it was my bad (past form)

9. Owabi mōshiagemasu (お詫び申し上げます)

In this article, not only how to apologize on casual occasions, learning how to give our respects or apology in formal or business situations is also being discussed. In the case for business or very formal situations like in ceremony or press conference from the company, this phrase ‘お詫び申し上げます (owabi moushiagemasu) is very useful to use. This phrase means “I or we offer the deepest apologies” and shows very profound politeness in it.

Furthermore, we probably would also hear this phrase on the train or in an airport if the vehicle has been stopped or severely delayed due to an accident or bad weather air on their announcement. In the business, this phrase is used at the same time with the phrase 申し訳ございません (moushiwake gozaimasen that we have discussed above) to apologize for any mistakes that affect clients or customers.

Please note and remember this phrase if you have plan to work in Japanese company or build connection with Japanese companies in the future.

10. Kokoro yori shazai mōshiagemasu (心より謝罪申し上げます)

This phrase has a very intense, formal, and profound meaning of an apology. 心より謝罪申し上げます (Kokoroyori shazai mōshiagemasu) means “I would like to give the deepest apologies from my heart” or “I would like to give my sincere apologies from my heart”. In this phrase, the word mōshiagemasu is used, this is the very humble form to emphasize the depth and sincerity of the apology.

Although, this phrase is uncommonly used or heard in daily life. This phrase is mostly used in the writing made by politicians, celebrities, or someone with very high positions in the company who has to give an apology as their responsibility for the mistake they made in front of the public.

11. Gomeiwaku o okake itashimashita (ご迷惑をおかけいたしました)

This phrase is also another super humble, polite way to apologize to someone for helping or supporting you. Practically, this phrase is considered as more as a way of expressing “thank you” than an apology. However, in the Japanese culture, it’s more polite and must-to-do to apologize when we need help, no matter what small our favor is, expressing this phrase is very useful to show our thanks and apology in one sentence. By using this phrase, someone who helped us will feel so much be respected and appreciated.

There are 3 common ways of using this phrase practically as the following:

  • ご迷惑をおかけいたしました。(Gomeiwaku o okakeitashimashita that means we apologize for any inconvenience.)
  • ご迷惑をして、申し訳ありません。 (Gomeiwaku o shite, mōshiwake arimasen which means we apologize for the inconvenience)
  • ご迷惑をおかけしまい、大変申し訳ございません。(Gomeiwaku o okake shimai, taihen mōshiwakegozaimasen that means we are profoundly would like to apologize for the inconvenience – this is super polite!)

We can use this phrase in the office for our boss or superiors when they are supporting us, helping our works as our respects and appreciations for their kindness, time, and efforts gave to us.

Conclusion

Learning how to express sorry in Japanese is very delightful. Last but not least, we can summarize our discussion about this topic as the following points:

  • The way to say sorry in Japanese is very diverse with very specific criteria of cases.
  • Japanese has specific conditions as well as circumstances and rich phrases options to express their feeling or emotion of regretful, understanding accurately how and when to use each expression is very important.

In the Japanese culture, the tradition of apologizing is not only used for a mistake but also a form of respect and gratitude for others.

About Eka 73 Articles
Hi, I’m Eka. I’m one of the awardees of the 2016 MEXT College to College Recommendation Scholarship. I completed the one-year JASSO-Tokyo Japanese course (2016-2017) and won second place in the Japanese speech competition held internally at JASSO at that time. After that, I continued my education at NIT. Akashi College and earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree after 2 years of study. I love teaching children English and Japanese, writing blogs, designing graphics, and creating digital content. I hope you enjoy the knowledge I share here based on the experience I gained in Japan for over 5 years. Thanks!