How To Say Sorry In French (7 Key Phrases For Apologizing)

  • Adrien Renault
    Written byAdrien Renault
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How To Say Sorry In French (7 Key Phrases For Apologizing)

If you’re in France and make a mistake, how should you go about making your apology (saying sorry in French)?

I’ve already covered how to say please and thank you in French.

Next up is sorry.

Given that there are so many circumstances in which you might need to apologise in French, it helps if your vocabulary is wide and enriched for occasions like these.

Making sure that your vocabulary is full of phrases that you can drop into any apology situation is important — it will help you to convey your meaning.

So, I’ve written this post with that goal in mind.

If you need more phrases to use when apologising in French to native speakers, this is the guide you need.

Apologising in French - vital phrases to be aware of

First I’ll focus on crucial phrases that you should be familiar with when apologising in French.

You might hear each of these phrases in different situations, but when you use them, try to use them in the right context.

I’ve started with je suis désolé — the phrase used most frequently when apologising in French.

Je suis désolé — ‘I’m sorry’

You can use je suis désolé or je suis désolée (for the written feminine equivalent) in a wide range of contexts when apologising in French. In English, it means ‘I’m sorry’.

There are a couple of variations of je suis désolé that you’ll want to keep in mind. For instance, if you wanted to shorten the phrase and use it in a slightly informal circumstance, you would just say désolé.

Or, if you wanted to stress the apology and show how sorry you are, use je suis vraiment désolé, which means ‘I am very sorry’.

One other way to say it is to use the phrase je suis tellement désolé — meaning ‘I’m so sorry’.

And, finally, you might choose to use another adjective such as sincèrement before the word désolé to emphasise your meaning — (which would give you je suis sincèrement désolé — ‘I’m sincerely sorry’).

Usage example:

Listen to audio

Je suis vraiment désolé pour votre marriage.

I'm very sorry for your marriage.

Je suis navré — ‘I’m sorry’

If you’re incredibly sympathetic to the pain you’ve caused someone, je suis navré — and je suis navrée (in the feminine form) — are some of the phrases you should use.

You should only use this one when you’ve committed a grave error or mistake, so reserve this expression for particular situations where you feel heartbroken and truly sorry.

Saying je suis navré when you’ve made a small grammatical error as a beginner during your French course, for instance, is not be one of those times. But if someone has passed away — this is an ideal moment for using je suis navré, (in a similar way to the phrase mes condoléances).

Usage example:

Listen to audio

Tu mère est décédée? Et je parlais justement d’elle. Je suis vraiment navré. Mes condoléances.

Your mother is dead? And I was just talking about her. I'm very sorry. My condolences.

Pardon — ‘Pardon’

There’s not much difference between asking for clarification in French with the word pardon and clarifying what someone has said in English with the cognate ‘pardon’.

You can also use the word pardon for apologising in French if you’re standing in someone’s way and blocking their path when they need to pass by.

Just as you would say ‘pardon me’ in a formal situation in English, the situation might call for a bigger apology — especially if you’ve barged into someone in the street by mistake.

So, in cases like these, you should say pardonnez-moi.

Usage example:

Listen to audio

Pardonnez-moi. Je ne t’ai pas vu.

I'm very sorry. I didn't see you.
Listen to audio

Pardon. Je ne voulais pas poussez vous.

Pardon. I didn't mean to push you.

Other ways to apologise in French with examples

You won’t always see the word désolé(e) when you’re apologising in French.

That is usually because there are so many ways to say it, and apologising in French can use various synonyms or variations of the actual phrase ‘I’m sorry’.

When you also consider that some circumstances need a stronger word, and others need a less serious acknowledgment and apology, it becomes clear that je suis désolé isn’t required in every situation.

The following four examples, for instance, are variations for apologising in French in other contexts.

Je regrette … ‘I regret …’

Bearers of bad news start their sentences with this French phrase.

Je regrette… means ‘I regret’ and it is used in scenarios where something serious has happened.

You might hear the phrase when your family doctor is giving you the sad news about the health of one of your loved ones, for example.

Also, keep in mind that this phrase is typically used in formal situations and that you can modify this phrase with the appropriate adjective (just as with je suis désolé).

Here’s our example:

Listen to audio

Elle était en bonne santé, mais le cancer est revenu. J’ai le regret de vous le dire.

She was healthy, but the cancer has returned. I regret to tell you.
Listen to audio

Votre mari est décédé dans son sommeil la nuit dernière. J’ai le regret de vous dire.

Your husband passed away in his sleep last night. I regret to tell you.

Excusez-moi — ‘Excuse me’

Need to say sorry for having forgotten to introduce yourself at a dinner? You might use this phrase to show that you’re sorry.

The phrase excusez-moi, just like in English, can be used for apologising in French.

It means ‘excuse me’, which, in this context might be taken as ‘excuse my manners’.

Like je regrette, excusez-moi is apt for formal situations. You might, for instance, be apologising in French for having interrupted a formal gathering. This phrase is suitable for situations like these.

Remember, though, that there’s also another meaning for excusez-moi — it is used when you want to get someone’s attention (such as the waiter’s in a French restaurant).

The usage examples just below will clarify some of these meanings for you.

Usage examples:

Listen to audio

Je suis désolé. Je ne me suis pas présenté. Excusez-moi.

I'm sorry. I did not introduce myself. Excuse me.
Listen to audio

Très chers invités, excusez-moi d’interrompre cette magnifique cérémonie.

Dear guests, excuse me for interrupting this magnificent ceremony.
Listen to audio

Oh, excusez-moi, je suis un peu nerveux

Excuse me (sorry), I'm a little nervous.
Listen to audio

Mademoiselle Aubert, excusez-moi de vous déranger.

Mrs. Aubert, sorry for disturbing you.

Toutes mes excuses - ‘I apologise’/ ‘My apologies’

Sometimes, apologising in French might mean being subtle when apologising. You might not use the actual word ‘sorry’ in the phrases you choose. Take this phrase — toutes mes excuses, for example. There is a subtlety to this apology.

As opposed to saying je suis vraiment désolé (‘I’m very sorry’), this phrase means ‘my apologies’.

If you wanted to take it a step further in a formal situation, and emphasise how sincerely sorry you are, you might use the phrase mes sincères excuses.

Here are those two phrases in action.

Usage examples:

Listen to audio

Toutes mes excuses. Je me suis trompé de date.

My apologies, I got the date wrong.
Listen to audio

Mes sincères excuses. Je ne savais pas que votre chien était mort.

My sincere apologies. I didn't know your dog was dead.

C’est de ma faute — ‘I’m to blame’

Sometimes a simple je suis désolé won’t suffice. You might need to take responsibility for your mistake when apologising in French. What’s the best way to do that?

This phrase - c’est de ma faute is one example of the ideal phrase for circumstances where you have made a significant error.

C’est de ma faute means ‘I’m to blame’, and the variation c’est de ma faute means ‘it’s my fault’. The word faute even looks a little similar to the English word ‘fault’, so there’s no reason to get this one wrong!

Use these phrases to show that you acknowledge the fault and then follow it up with the appropriate sentence to show that it won’t happen again.

Here is a usage example to help you understand how to use it.

Usage example:

Listen to audio

J’ai laissé la porte ouverte et ils ont volé notre télévision. C’est de ma faute. Je suis tellement désolée.

I left the door open and they stole our television. I'm to blame. I'm so sorry.

Showing the depth of your regret — things to remember when apologising in French

Now you’ve got the essential French phrases required to show remorse, it’s time to start using these essential phrases.

If you’re studying a French course at a B1 intermediate level, don’t just stick to je suis désolé(e). Now’s the time to push yourself! There’s a vital reason for this.

Every circumstance is different. There are formal and informal situations that will need you to adjust your apologetic phrases. Keep this in mind and always make the effort to acknowledge who you are apologising to and which context requires which apology.

Start apologising sincerely in French with some of these phrases and show how much you regret what happened.

Are there any French apology phrases that you want to be added to our list?

Comment below with your suggestion!

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