Knowing how to apologize in French is one of the basics, just like in any language, alongside functions like saying “please” and “thank you.” You’ll want to know how to say sorry in French for any number of reasons: brushing past someone on the train, upsetting someone, or expressing regret that something bad has happened to someone you care about.
In this post, we’ll explore ten different ways to say I’m sorry in French that can be used in a variety of situations, each with their own nuanced meanings. We’ll also briefly discuss how to respond to an apology in French.
Let’s dive straight in!
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The first and most common way to say sorry in French is désolé, which is used to convey regret or to apologize. This word is an adjective and must agree in gender and number with the speaker, so désolé is used by men and désolée with the extra “e” is used by women. Désolé is very versatile and can be used in all kinds of situations, from formal to informal.
- Désolé, mais je peux passer ? – Sorry, can I pass by?
- Désolée pour le retard, il y avait beaucoup de monde. – Sorry for being late, there was a crowd.
In the first example, the speaker is male; in the second, the speaker is female. Note that there is no pronunciation difference between these forms of the word. You’ll only really need to know the spelling difference when reading or writing.
Je suis désolé(e)
Another, slightly more formal way to say sorry in French is je suis désolé, which literally translates to I am sorry. The one-word version we saw above is actually just a more-informal abbreviation of this phrase.
Je suis désolé is very functional and can be used to express regret or sadness. The same adjective agreement rules apply, so a woman will say je suis désolée.
- Je suis désolé que je ne t’ai pas écouté. – I am sorry that I didn’t listen to you.
- Je suis désolée que cela t’est arrivé. – I’m sorry that happened to you.
You can add detail and change the level of regret or sadness by adding an adverb, such as sincèrement or vraiment.
- Je suis sincèrement désolé. – I’m sincerely sorry.
- Je suis vraiment désolée d’entendre cela. – I’m really sorry to hear that.
The next way to express regret in French is mes excuses, which means my apologies. This phrase is most often used in work or business environments, although it wouldn’t necessarily be out of place in other formal environments. The expression mes excuses is used to seek forgiveness or understanding for something that went wrong.
- Mes excuses pour le délai. – My apologies for the delay.
- Permettez-moi de vous présenter mes excuses. – Allow me to offer you my apologies.
The phrase je m’excuse is another way you might hear someone apologize in French. Be careful using this phrase with others, however, as it can be considered rude depending on the situation and on the speaker’s tone. Je m’excuse literally means I excuse myself.
- Je m’excuse si je vous ai offensé. – I apologize if I offended you.
A third way to use the word excuse to apologize in French is to use the verb excuser in the impératif form to say excuse me: excusez-moi or excuse-moi. This phrase is most often used to get someone’s attention, although it could be used to soften the impact of a statement.
The form excusez-moi is more formal, to be used in situations where you would use the formal vous. The form excuse-moi is more familiar, used in situations where you would use the informal tu. (If you’re unsure of when to use each French you, check out our post on tu vs vous.)
- Excusez-moi, est-ce que vous pourriez me dire où se trouve la gare ? – Excuse me, could you tell me where the train station is?
- Excuse-moi de te déranger à cette heure-ci, mais j’ai besoin de ton aide. – Sorry to bother you at this hour, but I need your help.
The most formal way to use the word excuse to say sorry in French is veuillez m’excuser, which translates literally as please allow me to excuse myself. It can also be translated as would you please excuse me, or simply please excuse me.
This phrase is most often used in formal situations in which the speaker wants to show respect and politeness while apologizing. It’s also used to politely announce that you are about to take your leave.
- Veuillez m’excuser pour la confusion ; je vais clarifier la situation dès que possible. – Please excuse me for the confusion; I will clarify the situation as soon as possible.
- Veuillez m’excuser s’il vous plaît. Je dois chercher mes enfants à l’arrêt de bus. – Would you excuse me, please. I need to pick up my kids at the bus stop.
Another common way to apologize in French is to use the word pardon, which means the same thing as in English. Like désolé, pardon is extremely versatile and can be used in both formal and informal situations.
In formal situations, you can use pardon to ask for someone’s attention, to show respect, or to express regret. It can also be used to ask someone to repeat something or clarify what they said, or to express surprise or disbelief (similar to “What?” or “Really?”). Finally, pardon can be used to apologize informally, such as if you bump into someone.
- Pardon de vous déranger. – Excuse me for interrupting you.
- Pardon ? Vous partez demain ? – What?! You’re leaving tomorrow?
- Pardon, pouvez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît ? – Excuse me, could you repeat that, please?
A more formal way to use the word pardon to say sorry in French is to use the verb pardonner in the impératif form: pardonnez-moi or pardonne-moi.
Both of these phrases translate as pardon me or excuse me, although there is a difference in formality depending on the form of the verb used. Pardonnez-moi is more formal, to be used in situations where you would use vous, and pardonne-moi is less formal, used in situations where you would use tu.
Each phrase can be used to apologize or ask for forgiveness.
- Pardonnez-moi de vous déranger, mais pourriez-vous me donner un coup de main ? – Pardon me for bothering you, but could you help me?
- Pardonne-moi, je ne voulais pas te blesser. – Forgive me, I didn’t mean to hurt you.
Je regrette de
You can use je regrette de as a direct and personal way to apologize in French. It’s most often used in informal situations, but can be used in formal situations as well. It’s followed by the reason for being sorry.
- Je regrette d’avoir manqué la fête. – I regret missing the party.
- Je regrette de vous avoir fait attendre. – I regret making you wait so long.
Je suis navré(e)
Our final phrase to apologize in French is je suis navré, which literally translates to I am deeply saddened. This phrase conveys profound regret and sorrow, and is often used in formal situations. Like we saw above with “désolée,” when a woman is deeply saddened she says je suis navrée with the extra “e.”
- Je suis navrée pour mon erreur et je vais tout faire pour la réparer. – I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I will do everything I can to fix it.
How to respond to an apology in French
Ce n’est pas grave
You can use the phrase ce n’est pas grave (or, more casually, c’est pas grave) to respond when someone apologizes to you in French. This phrase means it’s not serious or it’s not a big deal, and functions to let the apologizer know that their apology was heard and accepted. It also carries the connotation that the original mistake was minor.
- Je suis désolé pour le retard. / Ce n’est pas grave, nous avons encore du temps. – I’m sorry for the delay. / It’s not a big deal, we still have time.
Pas de soucis
Another informal way to respond to an apology in French is pas de soucis, which means no worries or no problem. This phrase is most often used with friends and family.
- Je suis désolé de te déranger. / Pas de soucis, je n’étais pas occupé. – I’m sorry to bother you. / No problem, I wasn’t busy.
Ne vous en faites pas, Ne t’en fais pas
You can say ne t’en fais pas to respond to someone’s apology in French. This expression means don’t worry about it and is used in informal contexts. The vous version is ne vous en faites pas.
- Je suis désolée pour le désagrément. / Ne t’en fais pas, c’est pas grave. – I’m sorry for the inconvenience. / Don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal.
Ne vous inquiétez pas, Ne t’inquiètes pas
The informal phrase ne t’inquiètes pas and its more formal counterpart ne vous inquiétez pas, meaning don’t worry about it, can be used to convey a sense of forgiveness or reassurance. It can also be used to downplay the seriousness of a situation.
- Mes excuses pour mon comportement hier soir. / Ne t’inquiètes pas. – My apologies for my behavior last night. / Don’t worry about it.
- J’en suis vraiment désolée. / Ne vous inquiétez pas, nous allons en parler plus tard. – I’m really sorry about it. / Don’t worry, we’ll talk about it later.
Conclusion: Sorry in French
In this post, we’ve discussed several ways to apologize in French, ranging from a simple désolé to more elaborate expressions like veuillez m’excuser. Let’s do a quick review before we go.
Generally speaking, désolé and je suis désolé are your best go-to phrases to apologize or express regret for a mistake or problem.
The phrases mes excuses and je m’excuse are more formal ways to accomplish the same results, although je m’excuse may be considered impolite in certain situations. Excusez-moi and veuillez m’excuser are both used to politely apologize and ask for forgiveness, while excusez-moi can also be used to ask for someone’s attention.
Pardonnez-moi is also used to ask for forgiveness, but is more formal and polite than excusez-moi. Pardon can be used to informally apologize, express surprise, or to ask for someone’s attention.
Je regrette and je suis navré are used to express regret and to take responsibility for a mistake, but je suis navré expresses a deeper sense of sorrow or regret and is more often used in formal situations.
It’s always important to understand the nuances of each expression and to use the most appropriate one depending on the situation and level of formality required. When saying sorry in French, it’s also important to consider your body language and tone of voice, as these indicators convey sincerity.
Whether you offer your French apologies to a friend, a colleague, or a stranger, it’s an important aspect of communication and helps to build stronger relationships and resolve conflicts in a respectful and meaningful way.