imagine how you’d react if your boss fired you and told you “sorry bro” as an apology.
You’d probably curse him and wonder what crossed his mind.
Now imagine how you’d react if someone bumped into you in the street and told you “I beg your pardon”.
You’d wonder why he spoke so formally, or maybe think he was actually making fun of you.
These two examples illustrate the importance of using the right phrase for the right situation, and that’s what this article will help you do.
After reading it, you’ll know the best phrase to use to say “sorry” in every situation you may encounter in France.
The classical sorry
The most basic way to say sorry in French is je suis désolé, And what’s truly practical about is is that you can use it the same way you’d use “I’m sorry” in English.
For example, you could use “je suis désolé” in the following situations:
- You’re stuck in the subway, because of a strike and know you won’t make it in time to your doctor apointment.
- You yelled at your friend yesterday and now feel sorry about it, you call your friend and say “je suis désolé”.
- You talk to your neighbor who informs you that his best friend died last week.
“Désolé” is an adjective which means it changes depending on who is sorry. If you’re a woman, you need to add a “e” at the end (désolée). If you’re talking about a group of people being sorry, you need to add a “s” at the end “désolés”.
The upgraded sorry
Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry” feels a bit too light. In this case, you can simply add one of the following adjectives before “désolé”:
- Je suis vraiment désolé (I’m really sorry).
- Je suis sincèrement désolé (I’m sincerely sorry).
- Je suis tellement désolé (I’m so sorry).
- Je suis profondément désolé (I’m deeply sorry).
Note that you can’t say “je suis très désolé”, because “très” means “a lot” and using it would imply there are different degrees to express how sorry you’re, while most people consider that you’re either sorry or you aren’t.
There are situations when “je suis désolé” may be too formal.
If you want to apologize to a friend or someone younger, you can say “désolé” without using “je suis” before.
You can also use “désolé” with people you don’t know if you meet them in an informal context.
The public transport sorry
If you use Paris métro (or go the Louvre museum), you’re bound to eventually bump into someone. When this happens, simply say “pardon”.
You can also use “pardon” if you don’t understand or hear what someone just said. In this case, simply raise the tone of your voice at the end so it sounds like a question.
If you’re in a restaurant and would like to pay the bill. you can use “excusez-moi” to get the waiter’s attention.
You could also use this French equivalent of “excuse me” when you exit a crowded train or to apologize for calling the wrong number.
Excusez-moi, je me suis trompé de numéro.
Sorry, I called the wrong number.
It’s my fault
“Je suis désolé” and “excusez-moi” are perfectly fine ways to say “sorry” in French, but French people rarely use them on their own. Often, we explain what we’re sorry for and add some kind of justification.
I can’t tell you what to write after “sorry”, because it obviously depends on the situation, but here is an easy way to make your phrase sound more natural: admit that’s it’s your fault and take responsibility for what happened.
To do that, you can use “c’est ma faute” (literally: it’s my fault).
Désolé, c’est ma faute, j’aurais dû y penser.
Sorry, it’s my fault, I should’ve thought about it.
The formal apology
“Je suis désolé” is enough in most formal situations. But there are cases when you may want to be even more formal.
You can also use “je vous demande pardon” as a question when you don’t understand what someone just said. Consider it a more formal version of “pardon”.
Now you probably wonder how formal these two sentences are. Well, they’re sentences you’ll rarely hear in spoken French. In fact, you’re most likely to encounter these two phrases in letters from companies or administrations.
Veuillez nous excuser pour la gêne occasionnée.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
The harsh truth
There are phrases that always come before a bad news.
“Je suis au regret de vous informer” is one of them.
It literally means “I am at at the regret to inform you that”, and is mostly used by companies when they want to tell you they won’t hire you despite your amazing CV or to tell you they can’t help you.
The dangerous “sorry”
If you go to France, you may hear people saying “je m’excuse”.
That’s not a phrase I recommend you to use, because it literally means “I excuse myself”, and many people will tell you that excusing yourself is rude.
It’s good to know that this phrase exists though.
Over to you
Have you ever had to apologize in French? How did it go? Share your experience in the comment section below!