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How to Say “I’m Sorry” in Italian

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Learning how to say “I’m sorry” in a foreign language is a crucial step in assimilating not only its grammar and vocabulary, but also its culture. This is why we at ItalianPod101 have decided to write an extensive guide about how to say sorry in Italian.

Reading this article, you’ll discover how to say “I’m sorry” in Italian with your words and with your body language. Moreover, you’ll find out how to say sorry in Italian in different circumstances and to different people.

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Don’t let them devastate your relationships with your Italian friends, relatives, colleagues, or other special people in your life. Learn how to say “I apologize” in Italian in the most effective way and take care of your relationships. Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Italian Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

  1. “Sorry”: A Complicated Word
  2. The Meaning of “I’m Sorry” in Italian
  3. How to Say Sorry in Italian
  4. How to Say “Excuse Me” and “Pardon” in the Street

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1. “Sorry”: A Complicated Word

3 Ways To Say Sorry

As explained by the Harvard Business Review, “I’m sorry” is an expression that’s very complicated to translate. This is because it involves the cultural meaning of apology, culpability, and mistake, which greatly varies from culture to culture.

For example, in the Western world in general, an apology implies an admission of culpability. What “I’m sorry” really means is “I’ve made a mistake, therefore I’m sorry.” On the other hand, in Japan an apology doesn’t mean that one admits he’s in the wrong, and it’s instead a way to repair a problem within a relationship. So it’s more like “I’m sorry that there’s this problem between us. Please, let’s fix it.”

It’s such a complicated matter, that the Journal of Applied Social Psychology has defined “sorry” as the hardest word. In order to clarify this extremely intricate subject, we could use the classifications of dignity, face, and honor cultures as defined by social studies:

  • Dignity cultures are individualistic, and the self-worth of every individual is based on his/her achievements, not on the others’ opinion. The U.S. is considered a dignity culture.
  • Face cultures are more based on hierarchy, and the value of individuals is assessed on their ability to do what’s expected of them according to their social position. China and Japan are considered face cultures.
  • Honor cultures are strongly based on reputation and each one’s ability to defend it from attacks, for example in the Middle East.

The meaning and effectiveness of an apology varies amongst the different cultures. For example, they tend to be less effective in honor cultures and more effective in dignity cultures.

Then, what about Italy? Like many others in the world, the Italian culture is a mix. We can define it as a mix of dignity and honor cultures. An individualistic society with strong familial ties, where honor still has some relevance.

Three Generations of Hands Overlapping


2. The Meaning of “I’m Sorry” in Italian

As in other Western cultures, “I am sorry” in Italian involves an admission of culpability. You’re supposed to apologize in mainly three circumstances:

  • When you’ve done something wrong, even if you haven’t done it on purpose.
  • When you’re disturbing someone or something.
  • When you’re lacking something.

Let’s see this in more in detail.

1- A Few Examples of Things that are Considered Wrong in Italy

You’re supposed to say sorry in Italian when you’ve done something that Italians consider wrong. The concept of wrong and right is another element that greatly varies from culture to culture, so let us give you some examples of what’s wrong according to Italians:

  • When you forget an appointment or a birthday.
  • When you offend someone, even if it’s not on purpose.
  • When you make a mistake while working.
  • When you’re late—but mind that many Italians have a very flexible idea of punctuality, and if they arrive fifteen minutes late, they might not see the need to apologize.
  • When you can’t quite finish your second dish of pasta. :-)

Remember that you shouldn’t apologize if you don’t think you’re in the wrong. Apologizing just to make things okay, without being ready to admit your fault, would look false and deceiving.

Little Boy Apologizing to His Grandfather

2- When You Should Apologize for Disturbing

You should apologize:

  • When you’re interrupting someone speaking.
  • When you need someone to move in order to pass through.
  • When you enter a room during a meeting or a private discussion.
  • When you need to have someone’s attention while he’s/she’s doing something (for example, when in a restaurant you need to ask the waiter something while he’s/she’s carrying another table’s dishes).

3- When You Should Apologize for Lacking Something

Here are a few examples of this particular situation. You are supposed to apologize:

  • When you invite someone to your home and you’re out of coffee, wine, or anything else a guest wants.
  • When someone talks to you in a language you don’t speak.
  • When you don’t know something you should know.


3. How to Say Sorry in Italian

Say Sorry

Now that you know the cultural meaning and circumstances of apologizing in Italy, let’s look at how to say “I’m sorry,” in Italian with these Italian sorry phrases.

1- A Dictionary to Say Sorry in Italian

So, how do you say sorry in Italian? It depends on the situation, but by far the most common Italian sorry phrases are:

  • Scusa: This word basically means “I’m sorry,” but also “I apologize,” “excuse me,” and “pardon.” It should be used with one singular person you’re addressing with the second singular person tu and not the formal third singular person lei (this is because you’ll be talking to a friend, a relative, or a partner, and not someone superior to you).

Examples of use:
- Sarò venti minuti in ritardo, scusa.
- Scusa per la fretta, ma ho poco tempo.

Translation:
- “I’ll be twenty minutes late, sorry.”
- “I’m sorry for the rush, but I have little time.”

  • Scusate: This is the same as the above word, but should be used when apologizing to more than one person.

Example of use:
- Scusate, ho dimenticato che dovevamo vederci tutti in pizzeria stasera.

Translation:
- “Sorry, I forgot that we were all supposed to meet at the pizzeria tonight.”

  • Mi scusi: Wondering how to say “sorry to bother you” in Italian to a superior? Mi scusi is a good option. This is the same thing as the above phrase, but it’s used when addressing someone with the formal third singular person lei, such as an older person you don’t know very well, a client, or a professor.

Examples of use:
- Mi scusi, vorrei avere delle informazioni sui vostri corsi di italiano.
- Mi scusi, non parlo italiano.

Translation:
- “Excuse me, I’d like to have more information about your Italian courses.”
- “Sorry, I don’t speak Italian.”

  • Scusami / mi scuso: This is like scusa, but with a more emphatic nuance.

Examples of use:
- Scusami, mi sono davvero comportato male ieri sera.
- Sono stato molto scortese, mi scuso.

Translation:
- “I’m sorry, I behaved very badly last night.”
- “I’ve been very rude, I’m sorry.”

  • Scusatemi: This is like scusami, but is used when addressing more than one person.

Example of use:
- A causa del mio errore abbiamo perso un cliente, scusatemi.

Translation:
- “Because of my mistake we lost a client, I’m sorry.”

  • Mi dispiace: This is another expression that means “I’m sorry,” but is used in more serious circumstances (or when used after it, there’s a subordinate clause).

Examples of use:
- Non sapevo della tua perdita, mi dispiace.
- Mi dispiace che tu non possa venire a Roma con noi.

Translation:
- “I didn’t know about your loss, I’m sorry.”
- “I’m sorry that you won’t be able to come to Rome with us.”

  • Perdonami: This is a word meaning “forgive me,” used when talking to one singular person that you’re addressing with the second singular person tu.

Example of use:
- Perdonami per averti fatto soffrire.

Translation:
- “Forgive me for making you suffer.”

  • Perdonatemi: This is the same as the above word, but should be used with more than one person.

Example of use:
- Perdonatemi per tutti i problemi che ho causato con la mia disattenzione.

Translation:
- “Forgive me for all the problems I’ve caused with my inattention.”

  • Ti prego di scusarmi / Ti prego di perdonarmi: These phrases mean “Please, forgive me,” and is a stronger request for forgiveness.

Examples of use:
- Sono stato davvero sciocco a dire quelle cose, ti prego di scusarmi.
- Ti prego di perdonarmi per la mia arroganza.

Translation:
- “I was really silly to say those things, please, forgive me.”
- “Please, forgive me for my arrogance.”

  • La prego di scusarmi / La prego di perdonarmi: This is the same as the above phrases, when talking to someone with lei.

Example of use:
- La prego di scusarmi per l’inefficienza.

Translation:
- “Please, forgive me for the inefficiency.”

  • Vi prego di scusarmi / Vi prego di perdonarmi: This is the same thing again, when talking to more than one person. If you’re wondering how to say “I’m really sorry,” in Italian (or “I’m very sorry,” in Italian), this is a good option.

Example of use:
- Ho commesso un grave errore, vi prego di perdonarmi.

Translation:
- “I’ve made a big mistake, please, forgive me.”

Woman Asking For Man's Forgiveness

2- How to Say Sorry in Italian to a Friend, Relative, or Someone Special to You

In order to say sorry in Italian to a friend, a relative, or a special person in your life, you’ll use the more familiar expressions, as when talking to someone with the tu person.

Examples:

  1. Scusami per aver perso la tua festa ieri sera.
  2. Ti chiedo scusa per non essere stato presente quando avevi bisogno di me.
  3. Non sono stato un buon amico, perdonami.
  4. Scusa zia, le tue tagliatelle sono buonissime, ma sono pienissimo!
  5. Scusate, ho dimenticato di portare il vino.

Translation:

  1. “I’m sorry for missing your party last night.”
  2. “I’m sorry for not being there for you when you needed me.”
  3. “I wasn’t a good friend, forgive me.”
  4. “I’m sorry, aunt, your tagliatelle are excellent, but I’m super full!”
  5. “Sorry, I forgot to bring the wine.”

3- How to Say Sorry in Italian in Formal Situations

In a formal situation—like when talking to a client, a superior, a business contact, or simply an older person you don’t know well—you have to use the lei person.

Examples:

  1. Mi scusi, non ho capito cosa ha detto.
  2. La prego di perdonarci per il disguido.
  3. Mi perdoni per essere stato indelicato.

Translation:

  1. “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you said.”
  2. “Please, forgive us for the misunderstanding.”
  3. “Please, forgive me for being indiscreet.”

Saying Sorry

4- How to Say “Excuse Me” and “Pardon” in the Street

After talking about Italian for “sorry,” what about saying “excuse me” or “pardon” in a crowd, on a bus, or wherever you need to pass? It’s very easy: you just say scusa to boys and girls, and mi scusi to older persons.

Examples:

  1. Scusi, posso passare?
  2. Scusa, dovrei scendere alla prossima fermata.

Translation:

  1. “Excuse me, could I pass?”
  2. “Pardon, I should get off at the next stop.”

5- How to Say Sorry in Italian with Your Body Language

In many cultures, for example in Japan, body language is an essential part of an apology. When you want to say that you’re so sorry in Italian, the expression on your face is the most important body language element. Italians are more expressive than other peoples, and an apology always comes—pardon the pun—with a “sorry” face.

Sometimes an apology can come with gestures; a hand to the heart is the most common, as a sign of pain and regret.


4. Keep on Learning the Italian Culture and Language with ItalianPod101!

We hope you learned some useful Italian sorry phrases in this article, and that you’ll start practicing them!

With ItalianPod101.com, you’ll learn so much more than grammar rules and vocabulary. You’ll discover how to behave in Italy, how Italians communicate through body language, and how to understand their culture and habits. You’ll be able to blend in with your Italian friends, relatives, and colleagues, and can fully enjoy your holiday in Italy.

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Until next time, we’re wishing you the best as you continue learning Italian!

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