6 different ways to say “sorry” in French

It’s no secret that good manners are important in the French language and within French society.

Just as “please” and “thank you” are key in any conversation, so is saying “sorry”. Mistakes happen, things go wrong, hearts get broken, fur coats get stolen and apologizing is just part of life.

While we might say “pardon” in English if we haven’t heard something correctly or if we’re pretending to be fancy, in French, pardon is more commonly used to say excuse me” if you are in a busy place or a packed metro. In the right situation, the words je suis désolé show that you are sincerely contrite.

There are many ways to apologize in French, despite the fact that the French don’t say “sorry” nearly as much as English speakers, and there’s no comparison with Canadians on this front! Deciding which version of “sorry” to use in conversation is a challenge. The following text may save you a faux pas or two.

Read on to find out how to say “sorry” in French like a native, and build on your list of

How to say sorry in French

As you are learning French, and are a polite, curious person, you’ll surely want to brush up on your repertoire of polite expressions. Saying pardon comes instinctively on public transport, just as desolé(e) is a common word to express that you’re sorry and issue a more substantial apology. Just like French greetings, these words are a natural part of conversation for French speakers, so knowing them is essential. 

6 different ways to say sorry in French

French beginners may wonder which version of “sorry” to use as the French language is full of pitfalls and treacherous traps. You don’t want to be too familiar in your approach if you are apologizing for a serious mistake. Keep reading to  learn the various ways of saying sorry in French.

Désolé(e) | Sorry

The literal translation of “sorry,” “desolé(e)” allows you to quickly and effectively show remorse for something. For example, if you cut the line in front of someone without meaning to. 

Je suis désolé(e ) | I am sorry (formal)

Je suis désolé(e) is a common way to apologize and express regret. You can use it to express empathy for someone’s loss, (Je suis desolé(e) pour votre/ta perte).

Excusez-moi | I’m sorry (formal) / literally “excuse me”

This phrase is often used when asking someone you don’t know a question. For example, when asking for directions or an item in a shop. Just make sure that you say Bonjour before “Excusez-moi,” as it is seen as impolite if you do not start a conversation with Bonjour.

Pardon | Sorry / Pardon

One of the most versatile ways to quickly apologize in daily life, pardon is often used to get past someone or to get their attention. The equivalent in English would be “Excuse me” or “Pardon me”.  

Just as in English, pardon can be used when asking someone to repeat what they have said. In a less formal environment, you are more likely to hear people say comment? which is a polite alternative to quoi ? which is a somewhat blunt “What?”

Je vous demande de m’excuser | Please excuse me (very formal)  Literally: I ask you to forgive me, I beg your pardon

A formal expression to request forgiveness – used in writing or orally. 

Note that you should not say je m’excuse as it is literally translated as “I forgive myself” and can come across as rude or forward, although your therapist would encourage it. Still many native French speakers continue to make this mistake!

Je suis navré(e) | I am sorry (formal), I am deeply sorry

Je suis navré(e) is a more serious way of saying je suis desolé(e), and is likely to be used in writing rather than in spoken French. For example, it might be used in a customer service context to apologize to a client.

How to say you are feeling sorry in French

If someone gets into an unfortunate situation, you may want to express to them that you feel sorry for them in French. You could say:

Ça me fait de la peine / Tu me fais de la peine | That makes me feel sorry/ I feel sorry for you (literally: This gives me pain)

On the other hand, if you get into a situation where someone is trying to make you feel bad for them, you might ask them if you should take pity on them.

Je dois avoir pitié de toi ? | Should I feel sorry for you?

Note that you should use this phrase with caution, depending on the context.

How to say “excuse me” in French

As mentioned above, pardon is an appropriate way to say “excuse me” when on the train, or in a crowded place. Excusez-moi is a more formal request (a demand, even) to be excused, often used in the hopes of getting past someone. Note that excusez-moi is the form used when asking questions of someone you do not know or have a formal relationship with. Excuse-moi is the tu form (informal) of “excuse me”, and would be used around friends, family and colleagues depending on how close you are.

4 different ways to say excuse me in French

Other ways to say “excuse me” in French include:

Je vous demande pardon ? | I beg your pardon? (formal)

If you wish to express surprise, use this phrase. For example, if someone has said something shocking or rude.

Pardon ? | Pardon?

This one is quite self-explanatory!

Excusez-moi, pouvez-vous répéter la question s’il vous plaît ? | I’m sorry, could you repeat the question please?

Probably a phrase you learned at school, it is a formal way to ask someone to repeat themselves in French. In real life, if a French language learner says this sentence, they are most likely to be met with a reply in English. In this case, it’s much better to say the word comment ?

Quoi ? | What? (Informal)

It is best to use quoi around friends and family, as it can be perceived as impolite in other settings.

How to forgive in French

On the flipside of apologizing, there is forgiving others for their mistakes. Once you’ve mastered saying sorry, or even before, you’ll want to know how people might reply to you in conversation. Hopefully, they will react in a positive way, so look out for the following vocabulary:

Je te pardonne | I forgive you (formal)

Excuses acceptées | Apologies accepted (formal)

Ça arrive | It happens (informal)

Ne t’en fais pas | Don’t worry

Ne t’inquiète pas / T’inquiète (informal) | Don’t worry

Il n’y a pas de quoi | There’s nothing (to apologize for)

C’est rien | Don’t worry (literally: it’s nothing)

Ce n’est pas ta faute | It’s not your fault

Tu ne voulais pas | It’s not your fault (literally: you didn’t want that)

C’est pardonné | It’s forgiven

Sans rancune | No hard feelings

Ce n’est pas grave | It’s no big deal

Ce n’est pas si grave | It’s not that bad

Tu n’as pas fait exprès | You didn’t mean it

Going further with apologies in French culture

If you have made a serious mistake but don’t feel like words are enough to say sorry, you could show your remorse through actions.

Writing a letter for example might be an effective gesture to get your feelings across. Similarly, a token such as flowers or chocolates could also help you apologize to someone you have hurt.

So there you have it, the different ways of saying sorry in French. Our apologies if there is a lot to learn, but they will be very useful in your French interactions. Sorry, not sorry.

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For further help with greetings in French, read our blog on How to say Goodbye in French. And don’t forget to learn some basic words and phrases beforehand so as to avoid any misunderstanding!

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