How to say sorry in German

Sometimes I hear students mixing up “Entschuldigung” and “Entschuldigen Sie” by saying “Enschuldigung Sie”. So, today’s post is a post about the different ways of saying sorry.

The noun Entschuldigung can be an apology, an excuse, or sorry.

If you need to ask somebody a question and are about to approach them (for example when asking for directions or the time) you can either say “Entschuldigung …” That would be short for ‘Entschuldigung für die Störung (sorry for bothering you), but people usually only say Entschuldigung. If you say ‘entschuldigen Sie bitte, ….’ you are asking the other person to excuse you bothering them. Both phrases, ‘Entschuldigung’ and ‘entschuldigen Sie’ are translated as ‘excuse me’ but as one is a noun and the other is a verb in the imperative (or command form), you cannot mix them.

‘Entschuldigung?’ as a question means pardon?, or sorry? But you can also say ‘Wie bitte?’

‘Sich entschuldigen’ is to apologise. If you feel that you need to apologise for your (not well done) homework, you could say ‘ich möchte mich für meine Hausaufgaben entschuldigen’.

If I wanted you to apologise for something and said “say sorry”, I would say ‘entschuldige dich’ (or ‘enschuldigen Sie sich’ if it was needed formally).

Then, if you wanted to apologise, you could say ‘Es tut mir leid’ or just ‘tut mir leid’

If you bump into somebody by accident you can say ‘Tschuldigung’ – it’s slightly shorter than ‘Entschuldigung’ and therefore can be said quicker. You can even, which I hear more and more, say ‘sorry’……….. *

More phrases that you hopefully never need:

I’m awfully sorry –  es tut mir furchtbar leid

I’m dreadfully sorry – es tut mir schrecklich leid

I’m really sorry – es tut mir wirklich leid

I’m very sorry – es tut mir sehr leid

I’m sorry about that – das tut mir leid

I feel sorry for you – du tust mir leid

I feel sorry for him – er tut mir leid

Better safe than sorry – Lieber einmal zu viel als einmal zu wenig. Or: Vorsicht ist die Mutter der Porzellankiste.

to cut a sorry figure – eine traurige Figur abgeben


*If somebody else bumps into you, you don’t need to say anything …. unless you want to be British – sorry ☺



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