In any language, all of us will occasionally mess up, feel sorry about something, ask for forgiveness, try to fix things! And in any language, there are countless ways of expressing regrets and apologies.
In French, saying you're sorry means using phrases like:
- Je suis désolé(e)
- Je suis navré(e)
- Toutes mes excuses
- Je vous présente mes excuses
- Je vous prie de m'excuser
- Veuillez m'excuser
- Je suis confus(e)
- C'est ma faute
- I'm sorry
- I'm very sorry
- Excuse me, forgive me
- Pardon me, forgive me
- Forgive me
- All apologies
- I owe you an apology
- I ask you to forgive me
- Please excuse me
- I'm really sorry
- It's my fault
Now you have a list of phrases that all basically mean the same thing, "I'm sorry" in French. That's nice and all, but when and how do you use one vs another?
Also, if someone says one of these phrases to you, what do you say in response? If you're not prepared, the only thing that will cone out of your mouth is something like "no problem" or "pas de problème" - which is not always the right way to anwer.
So let's dive into some real-life French situations of how to say I'm sorry and how to respond.
1. Apologizing in French for being rude
So you're in the subway in Paris, the train is crowded, you have to push your way into a car before the subway doors shut down on you. How do you apologize in French in this situation?
Before actually starting to push in, you say out loud:
This means: excuse-me
Chances are, no-one will reply to you, but if
Now you have to really push, else the subway doors will close on your face. To each person you push, you can say the same phrase:
Subtle difference from before, you say both in the same sentence flow, as if to say you're "double-sorry". Chances are you'll get these kinds of reply:
Oh, doucement! (hey, easy!)
Mais vous ne pouvez pas faire attention! (be careful!)
On a different note, suppose you "pass gas" (let out a burp or fart) or sneeze while surrounded by people you don't know. In this awkward situation, your best bet is to use a sober:
In such situations, French people will typically say nothing and look the other way as if nothing happened.
2. Apologizing for being clumsy
Suppose you stepped on someone's foot. To say I'm sorry in French, you can simply say:
Depending on whether the person was bothered a lot or not , the reply may be:
Il n'y a pas de mal (no harm done, no problem)
Faites attention quand même! (come on, be careful!)
Now suppose you do something worse, such as unwillingly hit someone or drop and break something. You may say:
Again, depending on the gravity of the mishap, you may hear these responses:
Je vous en prie, ce n'est pas grave. (please, it's no big deal)
Non mais vous êtes fou (folle) ou quoi? (what are you crazy?)
Mais ça ne va pas? (are you insane?)
3. Apologizing for being late
Being late is a very common cause for saying you're sorry, be it in French o any language. If you're talking to a friend, you might say:
Excuse-moi, j'ai été retenu (sorry, I was held up)
Désolé(e) pour le retard (sorry for being late)
Je suis désolé d'êre en retard!
T'inquiète pas, on a du temps (don't worry, we have time)
T'en fais pas, on est dans les temps (don't worry, we're on schedule)
Ça fait une heure que je t'attends! (I've been waiting for you for an hour!)
Now suppose you're late for a professional meeting. In French, you'll use more formal constructs to apologize:
Je vous prie d'excuser mon retard (please forgive my being late)
Je suis vraiment désolé pour ce retard (I'm really sorry for being late)
Veuillez pardonnez mon retard (please forgive my being late)
Here are some possible responses from the person you're apologizing to:
vousen prie (it's like saying, I accept your apology)
n'attendionsplus que vouspour commencer (you were the only one missing for us to start)
4. Apologizing for lying/cheating
Saying you're sorry in French for doing something rude or clumsy is one thing, apologizing for lying or cheating is slightly different.
For example, suppose you've cheated on your wife and you got caught. After all the drama and explanations, you want to ask for forgiveness:
Pardon... (forgive me)
Je te demande pardon... (I request your forgiveness)
Pardonne-moi... (similar to pardon in dramatic impact)
Pardonne moi s'il te plait (even more dramatic)
Va-t-en, je ne veux plus te voir (go away, I don't want to see you anymore)
J'ai besoin de temps pour réfléchir (I need time to think)
Suppose you lied to someone, for example you told your boss you closed a deal when in reality it wasn't the case and the deal tanked. How would you tell your boss you're sorry in French?
J'ai fait une erreur, je vous prie de m'en excuser (I made a mistake, I urge you to forgive me)
C'est vraiment inexcusable de ma part (this is really unforgivable)
Je suis vraiment navré (I'm very sorry)
Cela ne se reproduira plus (it won't happen again)
Some possible responses from your French boss:
C'est inacceptable! (that's unacceptable)
C'est inadmissible! (that's unacceptable)
La prochaine fois, vous êtes viré! (next time, you're fired!)
5. Apologizing for failing
You may need to apologize in French for failing: failing to deliver professionally, failing to be a good parent or spouse, failing to keep a promise, failing to succeed...
Let's say you were hired to do a job but your team is running behind schedule. At a customer meeting you might say:
Je vous présente mes excuses pour ce dérapage (please accept my apologies for the slip)
On the other hand, if you were apologizing to your daughter for not having been a good father, you'd use a phrase with deeper impact, such as:
t'enprie, il faut que tume pardonnes(please/ I'm begging you, you have to forgive me)
6. Apologizing for losing your temper
One last common scenario we'll look at is how to say you're sorry in French for losing your temper. So let's imagine you started screaming because of something someone said, then realized you were out of line. You may say:
Excusez-moi, je me suis emporté (I'm sorry, I got carried away)
Je vous prie de m'excuser...
Veuillez m'excuser de m'être énervé.
Veuillez accepter mes excuses. (please accept my apologies)
Pardonnez-moi de m'être emporté (forgive me for losing my temper)
Ce n'est pas bien grave (don't worry about it)
Pas de souci (no worries)
Aucun problème (no problem)
C'est oublié (it's forgotten)
7. Adding emphasis to an apology
There are a few adjectives you can use when saying you're sorry in French to make your apologies more or less forceful:
vous fais mesplus plates excuses! (I'm giving my "flattest" apologies - as in flattening down on the ground).
This is typically used as a semi-joke in situations without gravity, e.g. with a friend or colleague in situations without gravity or when having made a small mistake.
Je vous présente mes excuses les plus sincères (I present you my most sincere apologies)
Je vous présente mes plus vives excuses (my most vibrant apologies)
Je suis profondément désolée (I'm deeply sorry)
The above phrases are used in situations where some serious, sincere apologies are granted. For example, if you've caused an accident that led to somewhat being hurt.
As you've seen in the above situations, there are numerous ways to say I'm sorry in French. Some phrases are best used in certain types of situations, and some are more formal than others. The French can choose from a broad range of apologetic phrases, ranging from the casual "désolé(e)!" to the dramatic "
Over to you: go out and do something nasty, then try to pick the right phrase to say you're sorry!