Saying sorry is important especially when you mistreated someone and owe an apology to that person. Learn to say sorry in Chinese so that you can build everlasting and strong relationships with the people around you.
We apologize to people more than we think. From tiny situations to major ones, saying sorry holds a great part of our lives. If you are a Chinese learner and want to know about basic Chinese etiquette, this guide is for you. Here, we will explore six different ways of saying sorry in Chinese. Every learner should know these six ways to handle all types of situations. Before getting into the ways to say sorry, we must understand when and where Chinese people say sorry.
Chinese speakers do not say sorry for the same things English speakers apologize for. In Chinese culture, apologizing is essential. Apologies are used not only to express regret and sympathy but also to save face and maintain relationships.
List of situations where an apology is needed
When you are embarrassed about something: We know, this may seem strange to you because English people do not say sorry when they are embarrassed but Chinese do!
Saying sorry after an awkward or embarrassing situation in Chinese is equivalent to saying “excuse me” in English. For example, if you invited a friend over but didn’t have time to clean up, you might say something like “please excuse the mess.”
In order to use words like sorry or thank you in Chinese, you need to understand their culture and manners. Only then, will you be able to understand the situations where you are required to use these words?
When you feel sorry for something: If someone has just received bad news, such as one of their family members becoming ill or losing their job, it is polite to express your sympathy with an apology. The appropriate response, as in English, would be “I’m sorry to hear that.”
You can also learn by reading Chinese content. It will give you the right perspective to understand whether you need to apologize or not.
When you interrupt someone: Always use filters before you speak. Interrupting someone is not a good habit and it must be avoided but if a certain situation arises where it becomes a necessity for you to interrupt, you must apologize for it before starting your conversation.
When you make a mistake: Just say you are sorry if you made a mistake, whether by accident or on purpose. That’s all there is to it!
These were some of the major situations where you must say sorry. Now let’s explore some of the most authentic ways to say sorry in Chinese.
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6 ways to say sorry in Chinese
不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si) — “Sorry About That”
This phrase is used to apologize for minor offenses and is much more casual than the other. This phrase translates to “sorry about that!” in English or “I’m sorry!”
- 我来晚了，不好意思 (wǒ lái wǎn le, bù hǎo yì si) — I came late, sorry about that!
对不起 (duì bù qǐ) — “Sorry”
This is the most popular phrase for saying sorry in Chinese. It is mostly used in formal situations or for more serious offenses and errors. The literal translation in English is “unworthy,” which conveys how much more serious this phrase is.
- 这个房间太乱了，对不起 (zhè ge fáng jiān tài luàn le, duì bù qǐ) — This room is too messy, I’m sorry.
- 我忘了你的名字，真对不起 (wǒ wàng le nǐ de míng zi, zhēn duì bù qǐ) — I forgot your name, I’m so sorry.
- 我约会迟到了，对不起 (wǒ yuē huì chí dào le, duì bù qǐ) — I’m late for our date, I’m sorry.
是我的错 (shì wǒ de cuò) — “It’s My Fault”
It literally means “it’s my fault” or “it’s my mistake” and is used to admit one’s mistakes. You can use this phrase to accept responsibility for something that has gone wrong.
The phrase 是我的错 can also be used to express empathy and it is widely used among friends and family members.
- 这个饭太难吃了，是我的错 (zhè ge fàn tài nán chī le, shì wǒ de cuò) — This food tastes so gross, it’s my fault!
- 你的椅子坏了，是我的错 (nǐ de yǐ zi huài le, shì wǒ de cuò) — Your chair is broken, it’s my fault!
抱歉 (bào qiàn) — “I Sincerely Apologize”
This is the word you use to express your sorrow for someone, or when apologizing to an authority figure and pleading for forgiveness. The literal translation is “to hold regret.” It is used in more formal situations.
- 我很抱歉听到这个消息 (wǒ hěn bào qiàn tīng dào zhè ge xiāo xi) — I’m so sorry to hear this news!
- 我开会迟到了，真抱歉 (wǒ kāi huì chí dào le, zhēn bào qiàn) — I was late for the meeting, sincere apologies.
我错了 (wǒ cuò le) — “I Was Wrong”
The word 错 (cuò) means “to be wrong” or “to make a mistake”. In Chinese, 我错了 is normally used by children and people in romantic relationships. It is also used to admit the mistake after an argument.
- 妈妈，今天我错了(mā ma, jīn tiān wǒ cuò le) — Mom, I was wrong today/I made a mistake today.
- 我偷了你的钱包，我错了 (wǒ tōu le nǐ de qián bāo, wǒ cuò le) — I stole your wallet, I did wrong.
是我不对 (shì wǒ bù duì) — “It’s My Bad”
The phrase 是我不对 literally means “I was not correct” and is used in similar situations as 我错了 and 是我的错. It is about being regretful for the mistake no matter big or small.
- 那时候是我不对 (nà shí hou shì wǒ bù duì) — That time was my bad.
How to respond when someone says sorry
Now that you have learned how to say sorry in Chinese, it is time for you to learn how to respond when someone apologizes.
没关系 (méi guān xi) — “It’s Okay”
This is the most common Chinese response to an apology and translates as “it is fine.” It literally means “don’t lose face” and is usually used in conjunction with 对不起.
别担心 (bié dān xīn) — “Don’t Worry About It”
A common response to an apology, just like in English, is to tell someone not to worry about it. The phrase literally means “don’t be concerned,” and it can be used in response to any of the six apologies.
没事 (méi shì) — “It’s Nothing”
Another way we can translate this is “it’s not a big deal.” 没事 is a useful phrase to learn because it can also serve as a response to 怎么了 (zěnme le)? — “What’s wrong?”
算了吧 (suàn le ba) — “Forget About It”
If the matter is not big, you can tell the other person to simply forget about it using this phrase.
If you want to learn Chinese online do visit italki. Here, Chinese tutors will help you learn Chinese vocabulary, pronunciation, sentence formation, and Chinese characters. Enroll yourself and let the learning begin! While learning any foreign language, it is important to understand its culture and the behavioral patterns of the people. For example, there are different ways to say good luck in Chinese. Try observing native speakers see their talking patterns, it is a great way to learn and grow.
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