Most people would probably agree that saying “I’m sorry” in French is one of the most important things any beginning French learner should know how to do. There are so many different reasons why someone may have to say “I’m sorry” that you should be aware of what to say and in which situation to say it.
Just like in English, there are quite a few ways to say sorry in French that depend on the context, formality, location and of course the severity of the situation.
This article will hopefully help you to know exactly how to say “I’m sorry” in every instance you can think of.
Let’s get started.
Saying I'm sorry in french with je suis désolé(e)
This is probably the most common way to say “I’m sorry” that you’ll learn in French class or from French textbooks. Although it absolutely does mean “I’m sorry” in French, there are a couple of things that should be clarified.
Je suis désolé(e) is best used in situations that are a little more serious than a simple mistake. You may, for example, choose to use Je suis désolé(e) when you hurt someone’s feelings or when you forget something important. This isn’t what you would use if you accidentally bump into someone (more on that later.)
Just like in English, you aren’t limited to just saying je suis désolé(e) in situations where you’re sorry. You are able to explain exactly why you are sorry. See the below examples..
Je suis désolé(e) pour le retard – I’m sorry for the delay / I’m sorry for being late. (Can be used whenever there is a delay in something.)
Je suis désolé(e) d’avoir oublié ton cadeau – I am sorry for having forgotten your gift.
Je suis désolé(e) de ne pas t’avoir rappelé(e) – I am sorry for not returning your call.
Je suis désolé(e) pour le malentendu – I am sorry for the misunderstanding.
Although most people think of the French word pour as the English word “for” you’ll see in the above examples that this isn’t always the case. When saying “I’m sorry” in French you use de when what comes next is a verb and pour when what comes next is a noun. You can also use que to say “I am sorry that…”
Je suis désolé(e) qu’il ne puisse pas venir – I am sorry that he cannot come.
Je suis désolé(e) que tu aies perdu ton argent – I am sorry you lost your money.
If you feel that just saying je suis désolé(e) isn’t strong enough you can add any of the following modifiers to it..
Je suis tellement désolé(e) – I’m so sorry
Je suis profondément désolé(e) – I’m profoundly sorry
Je suis vraiment désolé(e) – I am truly/really sorry
Je suis sincèrement désolé(e) – I am sincerely sorry
You can, of course, just say désolé(e) on its own just like you would say “…sorry” in English.
Saying I'm sorry in French with Je suis navré
Je suis navré(e) has almost the exact same meaning as je suis désolé(e) and to be honest, a lot of native-French speakers will tell you that they mean the exact same thing if you ask them. However, there is a little bit of a difference between them.
Je suis navré is used more often if you aren’t at fault for something and just want to express empathy or sadness. An example of this would be if someone’s relative passed away. That’s not to say that you couldn’t use je suis désolé in this situation, but many would say je suis navré is more appropriate.
Don’t be surprised however if you hear both used interchangeably. People regularly debate on which phrase to use in which situation.
Je suis navré(e) d’apprendre la mort de votre père – I am sorry to learn of the death of your father.
Je suis navré(e) d’avoir cassé ton portable – I am sorry for having broken your cell phone.
Je suis navré(e) que il ait perdu sa maison – I am sorry that he lost his house.
Je suis navré(e) de t’avoir mis(e) dans cette situation – I’m sorry to have put you through this situation.
Saying I'm sorry in French with je regrette
Je regrette has almost the same meaning as both je suis désolé and je suis navré, but there is of course a little bit more to it. Je regrette is better used when there is an actual regret to express. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t use je suis désolé or je suis navré instead, but if you really want express regret, then use this one.
It is also more formal than the other two.
Je regrette mes gestes – I regret my actions. (I am sorry for my actions)
Je ne regrette rien – I don’t regret anything.
Je regrette qu’il ne soit pas venu – I’m sorry he did not come.
Je regrette de l’avoir quittée – I’m sorry I left her.
Je regrette can also mean “to miss” as in “I miss you” (je te regrette.) However this is much more formal than tu me manques which is used much more often and many will say it implies that you’ll never see that person again (such as when they pass away.)
Saying I'm Sorry in French with Pardon
There’s only a few things to go over with this one. Although the English word “pardon” isn’t used all that much, its French counterpart is used all the time. To put things simply, pardon is a quicker and more informal way to say sorry.
This is what you would use if you accidentally step on someone’s foot or bump them in the hallway. It doesn’t require any further explanation as the context should be enough. You can of course elaborate if you would like to.
Although pardon can be used just by itself as a quick way to say “sorry”, when placed in a sentence such as je vous demande pardon it becomes more formal.
Je vous demande pardon – My apologies.
Je vous demande pardon de ne pas vous avoir parlé ce matin – I apologize for not having spoken to you this morning.
Je vous demande pardon, pouvez-vous répéter ce que vous venez de dire ? – Excuse me, can you repeat what you just said?
Saying I'm sorry with j'ai le regret de vous informer
This next one is one that you hopefully won’t have to hear too often because it’s only used when presenting bad news to someone. The English translation is “I regret to inform you”.
Another variation of this is Je suis au regret de vous informer, although the meaning is the same. You’ll often see companies say Nous avons le regret.. or Nous sommes au regret.. if they are issuing a collective apology to someone or to a group of people.
Nous avons le regret de vous informer que nous ne pouvons pas vous offrir l’emploi – We regret to inform you that we cannot offer you the job.
J’ai le regret de vous informer du décès de ma mère – I regret to inform you of my mother’s passing.
Saying I'm sorry with c'est (de) ma faute
If you want to take blame for something, which is in a way apologizing, you can say c’est de ma faute or simply c’est ma faute. The translation for this is “it’s my fault”, which can also be combined with the many ways of saying sorry in this list.
Pardon, c’est de ma faute – Sorry, it’s my fault.
Dis-lui que c’est ma faute – Tell him/her it’s my fault.
Saying I'm sorry in french with excusez-moi
This one is probably the only way to say “sorry” in French that even non-French speakers are familiar with. If you couldn’t tell already, the most accurate translation of excusez-moi is “excuse me”.
Depending on what your French level is you’ll have already figured out that excusez-moi is used in more formal situations OR when you are talking to multiple people regardless of the formality. If you are just talking to one person (such as a friend or family member) then you should say excuse-moi.
Excusez-moi, je ne comprends pas – Excuse me, I don’t understand.
Excuse-moi, je suis malade – Excuse me, I am sick/ill.
You can also use excusez-moi and excuse-moi in more complete sentences.
Excusez-moi de vous déranger… – Excuse me for bothering you…
Excuse-moi de ne pas avoir répondu à ta lettre plus tôt – I’m sorry for not responding to your letter earlier.
Saying I'm sorry in French with Veuillez m'excuser
This is probably one of the most formal ways to apologize on this list. The closest translation to this would be “I do apologize for…” or “Please accept my apologies…”
You probably won’t hear this one too much in conversation, but you’ll definitely see it in official apologies from organizations or corporations. However, in these situations they won’t say veuillez m’excuser, but rather veuillez nous excuser (please accept OUR apologies.)
Veuillez nous excuser pour cette erreur – We apologize for this error.
Veuillez nous excuser pour la réponse tardive – We apologize for the late response.
Veuillez nous excuser pour tout inconvénient – Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.
Veuillez nous excuser pour la gêne occasionnée – We apologize for the inconvenience.
Veuillez nous excuser pour tout désagrément causé – We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Saying I'm sorry in French with je m'excuse
Here’s a way of saying sorry that is somewhat debated. Technically saying je m’excuse is incorrect as it means that you are excusing yourself. Having this said, you will still hear it from time to time. It’s recommended that you be aware that you may encounter this, but not to use it yourself.
In Canada however, you will hear this a lot more often and it’s usually accepted without an issue. If you aren’t comfortable using it and don’t want to make a habit of doing so then you can still stick with je suis désolé or one of the other forms we discussed when appropriate.
What other ways of saying “sorry” in French do you know? Comment below and tell us about them.