How to say “Sorry” in Japanese

Stamp that says Sorry

There is an old joke that if you want a Canadian to say he’s sorry you just have to step on his foot. Now while that may be surprisingly accurate, you’ll probably find yourself saying sorry as much as a Canadian when you visit Japan.

From stepping on feet to bumping around in the subway, saying “excuse me” or “sorry” will be probably one of your most used words other than “thank you”. So let’s learn how to say it!

Sumimasen

Pronounced suh-me-mah-sen.

Sumimasen is one of the most reliable and adaptable of the Japanese ways to say you’re sorry. It can be used when you bump into someone by accident or even when you want to get someones attention. In some cases it can even be used as “thank you”, as in “I’m sorry that you had to do me this kindness”.

The phrase means “it is not resolved/it is not over”, so you’re basically saying that you are indebted to the person for helping you or for forgiving you.

Gomennasai

Pronounced go-men-na-sigh

Gomennasia is closer to our English “I am sorry” and should be used when you want to show more respect.

The phrase means “my sorry”, so you should use it in cases where you’re taking responsibility for an action. It shouldn’t be used to get someones attention like sumimasen.

A more casual version would be gomen.

Shitsuree Shimasu

Pronounced shi-tsu-ray she-mah-s

Shitsuree Shimasu literally means “that was rude”, and should be used in situations where you’ve done something stupid or rude.

Moushiwake Arimasen

Pronounced mow-shi-wa-kay ar-ri-ma-sen

When you want to impress and really show how sorry you are, break out a “moushiwake arimasen”.

This phrase means “there is no excuse”, and shows a high level of respect.


For more help with pronunciation and situations when a certain form of “I’m sorry” is more proper, watch the following video:

Photo Credits: Sorry Stamp by sillypucci

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