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Apologize in French: How to Say Sorry in French

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“An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything.” (Lynn Johnston)

Whatever our reasons are, it’s never easy nor pleasant to apologize. Even in our native language where we can express all the subtleties needed to tone things down and smooth off the rough edges, “Sorry” still seems to be the hardest word.

Now, imagine you have to offer your apologies in another language, like French. Would you know how to say “sorry” in French? Of course, you won’t want to risk any further mishap or an unfortunate choice of words that could put you in a tougher spot.

Learning how to say “sorry” in French will not only help you go through delicate situations when you’ve made a mistake or behaved poorly. It will also provide you with a collection of ready-made formulas that you can use as a polite lubricant in everyday interactions. Without further ado, let’s take a look at how to tell someone you’re sorry in basic French. Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your French Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

  1. The 3 Most Important Words
  2. Take Responsibility
  3. Sorry Gestures
  4. How to Accept an Apology
  5. Make it Official
  6. French Culture of Apologies
  7. How Frenchpod101 Can Help You Learn More about Apologizing

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Man Saying Sorry


1. The 3 Most Important Words

When it comes to learning how to say “sorry” in French, vocabulary is, of course, a huge player. Although they can take many different forms, apologies in France mainly come down to only three words:

  • Excuse (“Apology”)
  • Désolé (“Sorry”)
  • Pardon (“Pardon”)

Once you start practicing their variations, outlined below, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. As you’ll see, there are variations for saying a formal apology in French, as well as casual variations.

1- S’excuser (“To apologize”)

Here are Casual and Formal variants of “Excuse me” with their literal translations:

Casual “Excuse me” Formal “Excuse me”
Je m’excuse. (“I excuse myself.”) Je m’excuse. (“I excuse myself.”)
Excuse-moi. (“Excuse me.”) Excusez-moi. (“Excuse me.”)
Veuillez m’excuser. (“Please, excuse me.”)
Toutes mes excuses. (“All my apologies.”)
Je vous présente mes excuses. (“I present you my apologies.”)

Je m’excuse (“I excuse myself”) may sound weird once literally translated, but this is the most popular way to say that you’re sorry. In French, it doesn’t actually sound like you’re asking for forgiveness and forgiving yourself in the same sentence!

2- Pardonner (“To forgive”)

Here are Casual and Formal variants of “Forgive me” with their literal translations.

Casual “Forgive me” Formal “Forgive me”
Pardon. (“Forgiveness.”) Pardonne-moi. (“Forgive me.”)
Je te demande pardon. (“I ask for your forgiveness.”) Pardon. (“Forgiveness.”)
Pardonnez-moi. (“Forgive me.”) Je vous demande pardon. (“I ask for your forgiveness.”)

How to use it:

Sentences with S’excuser (“to apologize”) or Pardonner (“to forgive”) can all be used to express that you’re sorry about your actions or the situation.

For example: If you accidentally bump into someone and spill their coffee, you could say: Oh, toutes mes excuses ! or Je vous demande pardon !

Excuse-moi and Excusez-moi are two common polite formulas that you can use in everyday situations, just as their English counterpart, “Excuse me.”

Pardon (“forgiveness”) works just as well for casual or formal encounters.

For example: You want to reach for your cheese in the fridge and someone you don’t know is standing in the way. You could say: Excusez-moi to catch his attention.

With a friend, you would use the casual Excuse-moi for the same result.

In both cases, you could also say: Pardon (“forgiveness”).

3- Être désolé (“To be sorry”)

Last but not least, Désolé (“Sorry”) is another cornerstone of the French apologies and works for casual and formal situations.

  • Désolé [Male] / Désolée [Female] (“Sorry”)
  • Je suis désolé(e) (“I am sorry”)

Now, depending on the gravity of the situation, you may not want to sound overly laid-back when saying “I’m sorry” in French. Here are some ways to emphasize your apologies along with how to combine that apology with Désolé.

  • Vraiment (“Really”) — Je suis vraiment désolé. (“I am really sorry.”)
  • Sincèrement (“Sincerely”) — Je suis sincèrement désolé. (“I am sincerely sorry.”)
  • Réellement (“Truly”) — Je suis réellement désolé. (“I am truly sorry.”)
  • Tellement (“So”) — Je suis tellement désolé. (“I am so sorry.”)

On the other hand, if the incident is so trivial that it doesn’t even deserve Désolé, you might want to go for our super-casual Oups (“Oops”).

Not sure when you should say “Sorry?” Have a look at our list of phrases to say when you are angry on FrenchPod101. If you hear some of these directed at you, there’s a good chance you might want to apologize for something!

Not Sure To Say Sorry


2. Take Responsibility

3 Ways To Say Sorry

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s see how to go a step further. If you ask for forgiveness, you may want to accept the blame and acknowledge that you’re guilty of your bad deeds. Here’s how:

  • Je regrette. (“I regret.”)
  • Je suis navré. (“I’m sorry.”)
  • C’est ma faute. (“It’s my fault.”)
  • Je ne le ferai plus. (“I won’t do it again.”)
  • Je n’aurais pas dû dire ça. (“I should not have said that.”)
  • Comment puis-je me faire pardonner ? (“How can I be forgiven?”)

In an informal setting, you could use a bit of slang (with care, as both of these terms are very familiar):

  • J’ai merdé. (“I’ve messed up.”)
  • J’ai déconné. (“I’ve screwed up.”)

You can find more examples and useful phrases on our list of Common ways to say Sorry, as well as an audio recording to practice your accent.


3. Sorry Gestures

When working on your apology in learning French, gestures are an important aspect to consider. Although there’s no ‘official’ gesture to express that you’re sorry or to ask for forgiveness, having your body language in line with your words never hurts. In France, here are a few gestures to pick up:

  • Hold your hands up, as if you’re held at gunpoint.
  • Place one hand over your heart.
  • Open your hands in front of your hips, palms up or down.
  • Slightly extend one hand, palm up, toward the other person.
  • Hold your hands together perpendicularly in front of you.

Remember to look at the other person in the eyes while apologizing. Keeping eye contact inspires trust and evokes a deeper connection. The other person will be more likely to believe in the sincerity of your apologies with a straight and confident look than with shifty eyes.

Eye Contact


4. How to Accept an Apology

Now, what do you do when you’re on the other side of the apology? If you believe in the sincerity of the other person and feel ready to accept their apologies, you need to know how to proceed. And if you’re apologizing to someone, you need to understand what they might say in reply.

In the case of a trivial matter that didn’t really require an apology:

  • C’est rien. (“It’s nothing.”)
  • C’est pas grave. (“It’s nothing serious.”)
  • Pas de soucis. (“No worries.”)

For something more serious, here are a few examples:

  • J’accepte tes excuses. / J’accepte vos excuses. (“I accept your apologies.”)
  • Merci de t’être excusé. / Merci de vous être excusé. (“Thank you for apologizing.”)
  • Ne t’en fais pas. / Ne vous en faites pas. (“Don’t worry.”)
  • Je comprends. (“I understand.”)


5. Make it Official

Saying Sorry

While most situations allow you to show some creativity with your apologies, there are some cases where it’s codified and doesn’t leave much room for improvisation.

1- Condoléances (“Condolences”)

Expressing your condolences is just as socially codified in France as anywhere else in the world. Here are a few examples of condolences sentences that you may want to use, should the need arise:

  • Je vous présente mes sincères condoléances.
    (“I offer you my sincere condolences.”)
  • En ces moments difficiles, je vous apporte tout mon soutien.
    (“During these difficult moments, I offer you my full support.”)
  • Je partage votre douleur et vous adresse mes sincères condoléances.
    (“I feel your pain and offer my sincere condolences.”)

On a personal note, while these are certainly appropriate as a token of respect toward strangers or distant acquaintances, I would recommend something warmer and more personal for your friends.

Unfortunately, there’s no prefabricated formulas for this but you can find some resources in our free vocabulary list for the Day of the Dead.

Pink Roses

2- Professional Apologies

Any company is eventually bound to present apologies, be it toward customers, partners, or investors. Once again, professional apologies are highly codified and are usually expressed with formulas without too much soul.

There’s no strict template but they usually look like these:

  • Veuillez nous excuser de la gêne occasionnée.
    (“Please, excuse us for any inconvenience.”)
  • Je suis au regret de vous informer que ___
    (“I’m sorry to inform you that ___”)
  • Nous vous présentons nos excuses pour ce désagrément.
    (“We offer you our apologies for this inconvenience.”)
  • Je vous prie de nous pardonner pour ___
    (“Please, forgive us for ___”)


6. French Culture of Apologies

We’ve all heard before how the French are rude or insensitive, and especially if you’re coming from a country where the customer-centric approach reigns supreme, you’re bound to miss the exquisite courtesy you’ve been lulled by before coming to France.

1- The French VS The Customers

“And then, he slammed in on the table like an angry French waiter!”

As much as it makes me laugh, it also saddens me a little that my compatriots are mainly famous for their bad manners and rough tempers. And it’s not just waiters; it applies to most of our daily interactions as customers, from the supermarket to the bank, the phone company or the tickets booth in the subway.

Being born and bred in France, it never struck me as a problem or even an oddity. But when I traveled to countries with a strong customer-centric philosophy such as Australia or Japan, I immediately noticed the difference:

  • In Australia, I was being called “Sweetheart” or “Love” by a cashier I was seeing for the first time.
  • In Japan, it seemed to me that the staff would apologize for bringing me the bill, then apologize for taking my money, and apologize again for giving the change back.
  • In France, I consider myself lucky when they look me in the eyes and I’d be shocked if they ever thank me for anything, even more so apologize.

All things considered, this is just a different approach to customer interactions and it shouldn’t be taken as an offensive behavior or a lack of empathy. French professionals are just not as inclined to apologize as in other countries.

Tables and Chairs

2- The French VS The Feelings

Now, outside of these artificial business constructions, and more generally speaking: Why is it difficult for French people to apologize?

To understand this, you need to consider the balance between “Reason” and “Feelings.” It varies wildly from one culture to the next and to keep it simple, let’s say that the French tend to overvalue rationality at the expense of their emotional landscape.

As I mentioned in another article, our body language is more restrained, our gestures aren’t as exuberant as those in North America, and our intonation isn’t as loud and assertive as those in Latin America.

Being rational creatures, the French are less likely to apologize for what they might see as “wrong reasons.” One such reason being to calm someone down or to alleviate their resentment.

We tend to think that it’s more important to be right than kind and won’t apologize unless we sincerely believe that we’ve done or said something wrong. On one hand, it’s a positive trait, as we keep things straight and honest. On the other hand, this isn’t the best way to handle emotional people who care more about their connection with you than your quest for the truth.

“Apologizing does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.” (Mark Matthews)


How Frenchpod101 Can Help You Learn More about Apologizing

In this guide, you’ve learned how to say “sorry” in French, as well as when you want to make amends for your bad deeds or in everyday situations as polite formulas. We’ve also seen how to take the blame and recognize our fault.

Do you have anything you need to apologize for? Don’t wait any longer and offer a heartbreaking apology using what you’ve learned today!

A good exercise is to write an apology about an imaginary blunder, trying to combine the different sentences that we’ve seen. Also make sure to explore FrenchPod101, as it has plenty of free resources for you to practice your grammar and vocabulary!

Remember that you can also use our premium service, MyTeacher, to get personal one-on-one coaching and have your private teacher answer any of your questions or give you feedback on your “apology essay!”

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About the Author: Born and bred in the rainy north of France, Cyril Danon has been bouncing off various jobs before he left everything behind to wander around the wonders of the World. Now, after quenching his wanderlust for the last few years, he’s eager to share his passion for languages.