To start with a word to the wise: Italians are not prone to the sort of over-apologizing that’s customary in American or Canadian culture. At the same time, you can’t exactly skip the crucial step of learning to say “sorry” in Italian. Mistakes happen, and that’s why quick apologies are some of the most important phrases you can learn in a given language.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Italy or with the Italian language, then you’ve probably already heard a quick scusa uttered in response to an honest mistake, or perhaps even a mi dispiace. But these are not completely interchangeable, and there are variations you’ll need to be mindful of to avoid making a grammatical gaffe or social faux pas.
Here’s a quick guide to understanding the difference between the two main ways to say “sorry” in Italian.
How To Say Sorry In Italian
The “Sorry” Sorry
The most textbook translation of “sorry” in Italian involves various conjugations of dispiacersi, which is a reflexive verb meaning “to be sorry.” It carries connotations that are close to “regret” or “feeling bad or sad about something,” so you can see why this is the sort of word that wouldn’t necessarily fit into every situation. You should, in theory, be apologizing for something that you feel at least a little bad about (versus, say, a casual “excuse me”).
More often than not, you’ll express this simply as mi dispiace. Here are examples of the various kinds of situations you might hear this in.
- Mi dispiace, oggi non mi va di uscire. — Sorry, I don’t feel like going out today.
- Mi dispiace, non ho tempo questa sera. — I’m sorry, I don’t have any time tonight.
- Mi dispiace, adesso devo riattaccare. — Sorry, I have to hang up now.
- Mi dispiace, non ho l’orologio. — Sorry, I don’t have a watch.
- Mi dispiace, ma non appoggio nessuno di questi argomenti. — I’m sorry, I don’t support any of these arguments.
- Oh, mi dispiace! — Oh, I’m so sorry!
- Mi dispiace per la tua perdita. — I’m sorry for your loss.
The Slightly More Breezy “Sorry”
Did you accidentally bump into someone on the train? You’ll probably want to offer a quick scusa (sorry/excuse me) — or, if the person you’re addressing considerably older than you or you wish to convey this in a more formal tone, you’d say scusi.
Of course you can say mi dispiace if you stepped on someone’s toes, but if you’ll note above, “Oh, mi dispiace!” translates to “Oh, I’m so sorry!” If you don’t feel the need to overemphasize the apology, scusa or scusi will sound more natural.
Though scusa and scusi more or less amount to “sorry,” there’s a way of implying that you’re asking someone to excuse you due to the reflexive nature of scusami or mi scusi. Similar to scusa and scusi, scusami is informal and mi scusi is formal. If you’re addressing more than one person, you would say scusatemi.
Here are multiple scenarios you might hear this in, contextually speaking.
- Scusa non sono riuscita a vederti ieri, ero in riunione. — Sorry I missed you yesterday, I was in a meeting.
- Scusi, ho sbagliato numero. — Sorry, I’ve called the wrong number.
- Scusami per il ritardo. — I’m sorry for being late.
- Non mi ricordo, scusa… — I don’t remember, sorry…
- Scusa, noi siamo in ritardo! — Sorry, we’re late!
- Ops, scusa! — Oops, sorry!
- Scusatemi, ho scritto solo al capo e ho dimenticato di avvertirvi. — Sorry, I only wrote to the boss and I forgot to tell you (plural).
- Mi scusi, mi lascerebbe passare? — Excuse me, could you let me pass please?
- Mi scusi, questo non l’ho capito. — Excuse me, I did not understand that.
- Scusa, è libero questo posto? — Excuse me, is this seat free?
- Scusi, signora. — Excuse me, madam.