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After learning how to say “hello”, “please”, and “thank you” in different languages, what do you think is the most common word or phrase that first time language learners should learn?
Well if you ask us, we would say that it is very important that you know how to say “sorry” in different languages. After all, it is only polite.
No one wants to offend or hurt other people but accidents happen. The best way to ensure that a momentary social faux pas or slight doesn’t develop into a big problem is to quickly acknowledge that you did something wrong and apologize.
Ethnologue compiles a list of the 200 most common spoken languages in the world. According to them, 88 percent of the people in the world speak one of the languages on their list as a native tongue and hundreds of millions more can be considered second-language speakers.
What we are going to do here is, look at the top 15 most commonly spoken languages on their list and find out how to say “sorry” in those languages.
To help you out, we’ve also compiled a nice PDF file you can refer to.
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The word sorry means “an apology” and is meant to convey regret. For most English speakers, simply saying “sorry” is enough, but if you want to be a bit more formal, you can say “I’m sorry” or “I am sorry”.
Word/Phrase: Duì bù qǐ
There are about 1.3 billion people in the world who can speak or understand Mandarin Chinese. You can use this phrase to apologize if you have offended them.
Word/Phrase: Main ksamaa caahaTaa hunn
This is the formal translation of “I apologize”. A more informal phrase to use would be “main maafli caahaTaa hunn”.
Word/Phrase: Lo Siento
This is the most common phrase used by Spanish speakers if they want to ask for forgiveness, it is appropriate for serious situations. However, you can also use “perdon” in minor situations, such as accidentally bumping into someone or if you want to interrupt a conversation or call someone’s attention.
Word/Phrase: Désolé (Masculine); Désolée (Feminine)
French is a “gendered” language, so there are many words and even phrases that may change slightly depending on whether you are speaking to a man or a woman. So, that is why, to apologize to a man you say ”Désolé”, but if your apologizing to a woman, you say “Désolée”
Given as around 25 countries all over the world use Arabic as an official language, it is quite handy to know how to apologize in Arabic.
If you want to be more precise, say “I’m sorry” instead of just “sorry”, say “ana ʾāsif”. If you want to be more formal, the Arabic equivalent of “I apologize” is “ʾanā ʾaʿtaḏir”
Word/Phrase: Ami dukkhito
Bengali is the second most common Indian language in the world and this is the phrase that Bengali speakers use when they want to apologize.
Word/phrase: Izvinite, Prostite
These are the most common words to say “sorry” in Russia. “Izvinite” translates to “Excuse me, sorry” while “Prostite” translates to sorry. Both these words are considered appropriate apology words for any situation, including formal ones.
Word/Phrase: Desculpa, Eu Sinto Muito
Desculpa is the most basic phrase for “sorry” in Portuguese. If you are in Brazil or among speakers of Brazilian Portuguese, you might hear “Desculpe” instead but it basically means the same.
When you have to apologize to a Portuguese speaker, you can also consider the more formal “Eu Sinto Muito”, which translates to “I really feel sorry.”
Maff is a great little phrase that you can use for simple, everyday apologies.
You can say “maff” when you accidently bump into someone or when you need to interrupt or get someone’s attention. If, however, you are apologizing for something a little more serious, like breaking something, you might want to say “saya minta maaf” or “aku minta maaf”, “saya” and “aku” are personal pronouns while “minta” means ask. So, you are asking for forgiveness.
Word/Phrase: Main maafi chahta hoon
Urdu is the third most common Indian language in the world and this is the phrase that they use when they want to apologize.
“Entschuldigung” is basically the equivalent of saying “excuse me” or begging someone’s pardon in German. If you like, you can also use the more casual “entschuldige”.
Japan is a culture that places great importance on showing respect and adhering to a hierarchy. Because of this, there are a lot of phrases and ways to say sorry in Japanese. Often, the appropriate way to say sorry has something to do with who you are addressing and what your relationship to them is.
You should work with a native language speaking tutor who can tell you the right phrase to use in the right circumstances. But, in general, you can use “sumimasen” which means “excuse me” to say sorry in Japanese.
Swahili is an African language with about 99 million speakers around the world. It is the most common of all of the African languages in the world and this is the word they use for “sorry”.
While just saying “samahani” is understood as an apology, you can also try the slightly more formal phrase of “ningependa kuomba msamaha.”
Word/Phrase: malaa maaf kar
This is another Indian language, mostly spoken in Western India in the states of Maharashtra and Goa.
So, on the list above are the 15 most common languages in the world, but there are still A LOT of languages in the world. So now, we’re going to take a look now at some other common languages and how to say sorry in those languages.
Word/Phrase: Özür dilerim
Most Turkish speakers are in Turkey, but there are also significant populations of Turkish speakers in other countries in Europe and Central Asia. There are about 85 million Turkish speakers in the world.
Word/Phrase: Mianhamnida, Joesonghamnida
These are the two common ways to apologize or ask for pardon in Korean.
“Joesonghamnida” is considered more formal and polite, so you might hear this more often. “Mianhamnida” is acceptable as well, but it is considered more casual.
Word/Phrase: Tôi xin lỗi
This is the most basic way to say sorry in Vietnamese. However, like many Asian countries, respect for elders and superiors is very important. So, if a native Vietnamese speaker is trying to say sorry to an elder or someone they consider of a higher rank to them, they might use “Tôi muốn xin lỗi.” You should keep this in mind, especially if you are going to be around Vietnamese speakers for business purposes.
Word/Phrase: Yi hakuri
Hausa is an African language spoken by the Hausa people. The Hausa are the largest ethnic group in Sub-Saharan Africa. You will find many Hausa speakers if you travel to Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, and Cameroon.
Word/phrase: Mi dispiace
This is the generally accepted Italian phrase to convey an apology. But it can be rather formal. You are more likely to hear people say “scusi” if they’ve accidentally bumped into you or if they want to call your attention.
Khǎaw-thôot is the translation of “sorry” in Thai. Much like “sorry” you can just say this one word to convey the idea that you are apologizing.
While khǎaw-thôot works in both formal and informal settings, you can also use “thôot thii” or “saaw-rîI”. These are usually considered slang though ,so think about who you are apologizing to and why before you decide to use these phrases instead.
Word/Phrase: Patawad, paumanhin
Filipino is the national language of the Philippines. If you want to apologize or ask for forgiveness, you can use one of the words above.
“Patawad” means “forgiveness”, while “paumanhin” means “understanding”. Using either of these words means you are asking someone to forgive you or understand that you meant no harm
If you want to be more formal, you can say “Ako ay humihingi ng patawad/paumanhin”. This means “I am asking for forgiveness/understanding”. If you are addressing a superior or an elder, you should say “Gusto kong humingi ng paumanhin/patawad.”
There is also a more informal and slangy term for “sorry” in Filipino and this is “pasensya na”.
Word: Jammer, Verskoon my, Askies
This is a commonly spoken language in South Africa as well as Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
All three of these phrases are usually used interchangeably, but “jammer” and “askies” are more informal and usually used among friends. If you want to be more formal, you can use “Verskoon my.”
This is the national language of Denmark, but it is also commonly understood in other European countries. Denmark is a Nordic country, so Danish is often spoken in the other Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.
“Undskyld” is more or less the direct translation of “sorry” or “apologize”, so if you utter it on its own you will get your point across.
Another common way to say sorry though is to use the phrase “jeg er ked af det” or “jeg vil gerne undskylde” if a bit more formality is called for.
Word/Phrase: Het spijt me
Dutch originates from the Netherlands, but has around 24 million speakers around the world.
This phrase is the commonly accepted phrase in Dutch to apologize and acknowledge wrongdoing. However, if you want to be a bit more formal or if you are talking to a superior or elder, you might want to try using “Ik wil me graag verontschuldigen.”
While most world languages have only a few words for “sorry”, that does not mean that there’s only a few ways to apologize. Memorizing these words is not enough.
Just take a quick glance above, and you will see that many of the languages we talked about have formal and informal phrases that are used to say sorry. Not only that, but sometimes, depending on the CULTURE of the person you are speaking to, there might be different proper levels for an apology.
Sometimes it is not enough to say the proper phrase to offer a sincere apology. Some cultures might require you to do something, like bow or lower your eyes or meet the other person’s eyes, in order for your apology to be taken as sincere.
Learning the cultural nuances and norms of a language is one HUGE reason why it is so important to work with a native language speaking tutor.
If you are learning a language with a native speaker tutor, they can help you learn how to say “sorry” in different ways. Not just the proper word to use and how to pronounce it, but the unspoken rules and cultural nuances to sincerely asking for forgiveness. You won’t get that from a phrase book!
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It's unfortunate that… I sympathize with your situation/disappointment/frustration… What a shame that… How sad for you that (this) happened… Will you please forgive my insensitivity/error/indiscretion…
Main ksamaa caahaTaa hunn
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