Apologies! My bad! Excuse me! I’m sorry to hear that. Sorry, come again? Like many polite phrases and words, saying sorry in German, just like in English, can have several meanings depending on the context. There are also different levels of formality, politeness and slanginess available in the different variations of “sorry”. Misunderstandings are practically inevitable when you’re speaking a newly learned language to its native speakers, but it doesn’t need to be scary to make a mistake. People are generally very forgiving when it comes to foreign language miscommunication, especially if you know how to apologize! This post will explore your options on how to say sorry in German, so in case you face any accidents or misunderstandings, you’re ready to make things right with the right apology!
(Photo by Brett Jordan)
If all you want to know how to say is the German equivalent of “sorry” then this is the section for you. You still have several different words to choose from, so never fear that your apologetic vocabulary might lack variety!
Entschuldigung means excuse me but is also often used like sorry to apologize (as opposed to what you say when you need to squeeze by someone, etc.). It’s not formal at all, and is commonly used along with its variations below that we’ll get into. You can’t go wrong with saying Entschuldigung if you have something you want to apologize for or be excused for.
- Entschuldigung, ich muss schnell gehen weil ich treffe jemand bald. (Sorry, I need to leave quickly because I’m meeting someone soon.)
‘Tschuldigung is the same as Entschuldigung, but it’s much more casual. Think of it like saying ‘scuse me. Meaning-wise it also means excuse me and sorry, but because it is more casual any apology you use it in is more casual as well. Be careful to only use it where appropriate — with friends or others you’re close to — otherwise, you run the risk of seeming ingenuine.
- ‘Tschuldigung, ich hab dich nicht gesehen! (‘Scuse me, I didn’t see you there!)
Entschuldige bitte translates to please excuse me. By adding Bitte onto the end the phrase becomes slightly more formal than just saying Entschuldigung, but again, has essentially the same meaning. (If you would like to know more about Bitte check out our post 10+ Ways to Say “You’re Welcome in German, which discusses one of many uses of Bitte).
- Entschuldige bitte! Gibt es hier eine Toilette? (Excuse me! Is there a bathroom here?)
That’s right, if you’re feeling lost in all the German, you can just say sorry! Thanks to the increasing pervasiveness of English words or English sounding words in the German language (better known as Denglish), sorry has entered the German vocabulary as a kind of slang apology. It’s casual, even more so than ‘Tschuldigung so, again, be wary of using it in situations where a more formal phrase would be a better fit, but with friends and conversations with other casual acquaintances throwing in a sorry won’t hurt!
- Hey Leute, sorry, aber ich kann nicht heute mit kommen. (Hey guys, sorry, but I can’t come with you today.)
Verzeihung is another way to say excuse me or pardon in German. In literal translation it means Forgiveness, so if it helps you to remember you can think about it like saying forgive me (although that feels a bit dramatic compared to its day-to-day usage). It is worth noting that it can come across as a little old-fashioned depending on the delivery.
- Ich muss gerade durch hier gehen. Verzeihung. (I need to get through here. Excuse me.)
Es tut mir leid means something like It makes me sorrowful, and it is used as a more formal apology in German. It’s not necessarily more formal than Entschuldigung, but it feels out of place in a casual context because it tends to sound more genuine than tossing out a ‘Tschuldigung. When you used Es tut mir leid, what you are expressing is that something that has happened to someone, whether it’s something you are responsible for or not, has made you sad. So it’s not only an expression of apology, but also one of sympathy. You can use it if you knock over someone’s coffee, but also if you hear that there was a death in someone’s family.
- Ich habe gehört das deine Katze hat entschlafen. Es tut mir leid. (I heard that your cat passed away. I’m so sorry.)
Es tut mir leid has the benefit of being a more versatile phrase. This is because you can add adjectives before leid to emphasize how really, really sorry you feel or what type of sorry you are. Below are a few common examples of adjectives added in to Es tut mir leid to make it stronger.
- Es tut mir schrecklich leid (It makes me horribly sad/sorry)
- Es tut mir furchtbar leid (It makes me terribly sad/sorry)
- Es tut mir wirklich leid (It makes me really sad/sorry)
Alternatively, you can also combine Es tut mir leid with one of the ways to say sorry in German from the previous section, like so:
- Es tut mir leid aber es gibt viel Verkehr heute. Ich werde spät sein, entschuldigung! (I feel bad, but there’s a lot of traffic today. I’m going to be late, sorry!)
Es tut mir leid is not limited to its more formal forms. Now introducing the cool and casual Tut mir leid. All you have to do is cut the Es and you get a casual and more colloquial version of Es tut mir leid. It still has essentially the same meaning, but without the serious and extra polite connotation. Like with ‘Tschuldigung it’s on the laid-back side and is best used with people you’re close and comfortable being casual with.
- Ich habe dein stift verloren, tut mir leid. (I lost your pencil, sorry.)
Along with Es tut mir leid, there are a few other ways to say Sorry as an expression of sympathy in German. Schade is on the casual side, and just means Pity or What a shame. It can be on its own or in a phrase like Das ist Schade (that is a shame). It’s more casual on its own than when it’s in a phrase.
- Sie haben dein Lieblingsessen in die Kantine nicht mehr. Schade. (They don’t have your favorite food in the cafeteria anymore, what a shame.)
We’re almost to the end, just one last sorry in German for you to learn! Are you excited? Sorry, come again, I couldn’t quite hear you the first time? — I’m kidding, of course, but the sorry, I didn’t understand you type phrase is what we are going over next!
Wie bitte means sorry how please? It’s commonly used, and it’s what you say when either you didn’t hear someone, you didn’t understand what they meant, or you’re pretending not to understand for comical or dramatic effect. Just like how in English sorry, come again? can be used if you didn’t hear, didn’t understand, or the person you’re talking to just said something buck wild that you want to question and call attention to. It isn’t the most polite way to express that you didn’t understand, but it gets the job done.
- Wie bitte? Sag mal ein bischen langsamer, bitte! (Sorry, come again? Speak a little slower, please!)
Finally, here are some other words and phrases related to apologizing and apologies in German that you might run into!
- Die Entschuldigung (the apology)
- Eine Entschuldigung annehmen (to accept an apology)
- Eine Entschuldigung anbieten (to offer an apology)
- Als Entschuldigung ([to do something] as an apology/by way of apology)
- Eine schriftliche Entschuldigung (a written apology)
- Kondolenz (Condolence)
If you want some examples of these apologies and their variations spoken aloud, check out the Get Germanized video below. He does a great job of showing the wide variety of contexts and phrases a lot of the above terms can be used in, and he says the words multiple times. Hearing the words out loud can help you with pronunciation and tone!
That’s it for saying sorry in German, but if you can’t get enough of German polite phrases, you’re in luck because we have a few other posts on the topic to help you enhance and practice your polite vocabulary. Check them out to learn more, but don’t forget to practice your apologies because you never know when you might need them!