How To Apologize In German

No need to overdo it — just keep it short, sweet, and honest.
October 23, 2020
How To Apologize In German

Whether you’re committing to your German lessons for the long haul or brushing up before a trip, you should probably make sure you know how to say “sorry” in German. That’s not because Germans are an overly apologetic bunch — quite the contrary, actually. It’s just one of those easy things you can do as a bumbling tourist to move through another person’s country a little more gracefully.

Learning to say “sorry” in German isn’t just a matter of rote vocabulary, though. It’s important to be aware of cultural differences too. For instance, an American might find Germans kind of rude and brusque because they don’t have a habit of apologizing profusely for everything. But from the German point of view, there’s no need for overwrought apologies. A straightforward, simple “sorry,” especially one that’s used sparingly, is more honest and authentic.

While English can use “sorry” for every occasion, German apologies also only make sense in certain contexts. You wouldn’t say “my condolences” because you bumped into someone on the street, right?

Below, we’ll go over the main ways to say “sorry” in German and how to use them in the appropriate situations. You can also click the play button where you see it to hear how the words are pronounced.

How To Say Sorry In German

The “Sorry” Sorry

The classic, textbook “sorry” derives from the verb leidtun, which means “to be sorry” but also carries connotations of “to hurt,” “to regret” and “to suffer.” Sounds kind of dramatic, but when you hear a German say Es tut mir leid, they’re not really thinking about the fact that they’re literally communicating something to the effect of “it causes me suffering” or “it does hurt to me.” It basically means “I am sorry.”

Es tut mir leid is the more formal expression of apology, and is best used in situations where you wish to convey a sense of responsibility and deference.

You can also say Das tut mir leid to convey “I’m sorry,” but this is more for when you’re sorry that something happened to someone that you’re not necessarily at fault for.

In more informal situations, you simply chop off the first part and offer a quick Tut mir leid. This is more akin to saying “sorry” instead of “I am sorry.”

Here’s how these apologies might sound in practice:

  • Tut mir leid, ich habe heute keine Lust auszugehen. — Sorry, I don’t feel like going out today.
  • Es tut mir leid, ich habe heute Abend keine Zeit. — I’m sorry, I don’t have any time tonight.
  • Tut mir leid, ich muss jetzt auflegen. — Sorry, I have to hang up now.
  • Oh, das tut mir leid, da kann ich Ihnen nicht helfen. — Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t help you there.
  • Das war ein Missverständnis und es tut mir leid. — That was a misunderstanding and I’m sorry.
  • Bitte teilen Sie Ihrem Chef mit, dass es uns außerordentlich leid tut! — Please inform your boss that we’re terribly (lit. extraordinarily) sorry!

The ‘Excuse Me’ Sorry

The other most common form of “sorry” in German derives from die Entschuldigung, or “the apology.”

Most of the time, you’ll hear someone offer a simple Entschuldigung, which means “sorry” or “excuse me” (it’s literally like saying “apology!”). This can be used in both formal and informal contexts, and it’s sufficient as a standalone word — in other words, it forms a complete sentence.

To address someone in a more formal way, you would say Entschuldigen Sie. In informal situations, you would say Entschuldige. These are both imperative forms of the word (in a sense, you’re “commanding” that they excuse you, but in a more polite way).

Here’s how the various permutations of this word might appear in a natural conversation:

  • Entschuldigung, ich habe die falsche Nummer gewählt. — Sorry, I’ve called the wrong number.
  • Entschuldige, ich habe dich gestern verpasst, ich war in einer Besprechung. — Sorry I missed you yesterday, I was in a meeting.
  • Entschuldigung, können Sie mir helfen? — Sorry, can you help me?
  • Entschuldige, hast du etwas gesagt? — Sorry, did you say something?
  • Entschuldigung, haben Sie ein Feuerzeug? — Excuse me, do you have a lighter?
  • Ich entschuldige mich für meine späte Antwort, ich war sehr beschäftigt. — I apologize for my late answer, I’ve been very busy.
  • Entschuldigen Sie die Unannehmlichkeiten. — We apologize for the inconvenience.
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Author Headshot
Steph Koyfman
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.

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