by Kate Woodford
From time to time, we all have to apologize (= say we are sorry for something we have done). This post looks at the language of saying sorry and also considers the way that people respond when someone says sorry.
First, then, the apology itself. The phrase ‘I’m sorry’ can be made stronger and more sincere by adding ‘so‘ or ‘really‘: I’m so sorry we’re late./I’m really sorry about last night. Note that people who are apologizing often say a little more at this point, either to explain why they did what they did, or to say why they are sorry:
I’m really sorry I said that. I was just so upset at the time.
I’m so sorry I said those things. I know I really upset you.
Often the phrase should have (or shouldn’t have) is used here:
I’m so sorry I didn’t let you know. I should have called you.
I’m really sorry, William. I shouldn’t have blamed you like that.
The person apologizing sometimes wants to make clear that they are responsible for the bad thing that happened. The phrase ‘it’s my fault’ is sometimes used here:
I shouldn’t have told Jamie – it was my fault. I should have known better.
Notice the phrase ‘I should have known better’ where the speaker admits that he or she did something silly.
Sometimes, when apologizing, you have to explain the bad thing that you have done before you can say sorry. ‘I’m afraid …’ is the most common way to do this:
I’m afraid I broke your favourite mug, Sophie. I’m really sorry – I’ll buy you another, I promise.
A useful phrase to introduce the explanation here is ‘I owe you an apology’. Note that this phrase tends to be used before people say sorry for something that is not very serious:
I owe you an apology, Sam. I’m afraid I forgot to pass on your message to Tom.
Another phrase that sometimes comes before an explanation and apology is ‘I have a confession to make.’. Again, this tends to be used before a person admits to doing something wrong that is not very serious:
I have a confession to make, Sam. I’m afraid I’ve lost that book you lent me.
So what do we say when people apologize to us? Assuming that the matter is not terribly important, we may want to make the person feel less bad by using phrases such as ‘It doesn’t matter.’ or ‘Don’t worry (about it).’ Note that we often add something after a phrase like this to let them know that we are not angry or upset:
A: I’m sorry I’m late.
B: Don’t worry – I’ve only just got here myself!
A: I’m afraid I can’t find that email from Julia – I’m really sorry.
B: Oh, it doesn’t matter – I can easily call her and ask what the problem is.
A: I’m really sorry we can’t make it to your party.
B: No worries – we’ll meet up some other time.
A: Oh, I forgot to call James. I’m sorry!
B: That’s okay. I’ll call him later.