How To Apologize In Dutch

One option is to literally just say ‘sorry.’
spilled ice cream cone sorry in dutch

At some point in every language learner’s journey — often very early on — a situation arises that you’ll wish to express polite regret for. Arguably, “sorry” is one of the most important words to learn in any language. When you inevitably bump into someone on the train, step on someone’s toe, ask them to repeat themselves or show up late to an appointment, you’ll be glad you learned how to say sorry in Dutch.

If you’re an English speaker, there’s fortunately not too much you’ll have to learn. Dutch people say “sorry” too! The key is learning when it’s appropriate to use this form of apology versus, say, a more “Dutch-sounding” one. The Dutch word for “apology,” in case you’re wondering, is de verontschuldiging.

Below, you’ll find three of the most common ways to say sorry in Dutch, along with some helpful context clues to show you when it makes sense to use them.

How To Say Sorry In Dutch

When “Sorry” Is Just Sorry

Yep, it’s that easy. “Sorry” is a Dutch word, too, which makes sense when you consider that English and Dutch both belong to the Western Germanic language family. The etymology of the English “sorry” and Dutch zeer (sore, grieving) both come from the same Proto-Germanic root *sairaz or *sairagaz (sad, sore). But it seems that modern Dutch just lifted “sorry” from English. So it’s complicated.

With all of that said, if you’re saying sorry in Dutch, you’ll need to pronounce it like the Dutch do: sorry.

You’ll generally only want to use this in more casual situations, such as apologizing for bumping into someone or making an innocent mistake.

Here are some examples of how it’s used in a sentence.

  • Sorry, ik versta het niet. — Sorry, I don’t understand.
  • Sorry, het spijt me*. — Excuse me, I’m sorry.
  • Sorry, ik weet het niet. — Sorry, I don’t know.
  • Ja, sorry, mijn lieve zoon speelt met de kerstballen. — Yes, sorry, my lovely son is playing with the Christmas ornaments.
  • Sorry, kunt u mij helpen? — Sorry, could you help me?
  • Sorry, ik ben je verjaardag helemaal vergeten! — Sorry, I completely forgot your birthday!

*This is an example of the two main ways to apologize in Dutch used together in a sentence. We’ll get into het spijt me below, but notice how sorry comes to mean something more akin to “excuse me” in that situation, and het spijt me takes the form of the more formal apology.

A More Regretful “Sorry”

When you’re sorry and you mean it, you would use a form of the verb “to be sorry,” or spitjen.

To say “I’m sorry,” you would conjugate this as het spijt me. Here’s how that sounds in a sentence: Sorry, het spijt me.

As you can see in the below examples, this version works in situations where you’re expressing remorse for your actions, condolences or sympathy for another, or perhaps something that is not your fault but that you still wish to convey an earnest sense of regret for.

  • Het spijt me voor jou. — I’m sorry for you.
  • Nee, het spijt me. Ik weet het niet. — No, I’m sorry. I don’t know.
  • Het spijt me, maar we hebben geen cocktails. — Sorry, but we don’t have cocktails.
  • Het spijt me, maar ik ben hier niet bekend. — I’m sorry, but I don’t know this place.
  • Het spijt me, de koffie is op. — I’m sorry, we are out of coffee.

A Polite Take On “Excuse Me”

Though sorry works in situations where you’d normally say “excuse me,” you can also use pardon. As you might already know, many languages (including English) borrowed “pardon” from the French.

  • Pardon, ik zoek een bakkerij. — Excuse me, I’m looking for a bakery.
  • Pardon, is er hier een supermarkt in de buurt? — Excuse me, is there a supermarket near here?
  • Pardon, mag ik iets vragen? — Excuse me, may I ask you something?
  • Oh, excuses, dan ben ik verkeerd verbonden. — Oh, excuse me, I have the wrong number.
Looking for Dutch lessons?
Try Babbel