How to say you’re sorry

"Sorry seems to be the hardest word," hat Elton John einst gesungen. Elton sang über eine Liebesbeziehung, doch auch im Geschäftsleben haben viele Menschen Schwierigkeiten sich zu entschuldigen, besonders in Deutschland. In Großbritannien und USA gehört das kleine Wort 'sorry' allerdings zum Alltag im Geschäftsleben.

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Many Brits and Americans complain that Germans are very bad at saying they're sorry, especially in business. In Britain and America, saying "I'm sorry", (or one of ist many equivalents), is the most natural thing in the world. So it's a good idea to practice apologising clearly for the many different situations you might find yourself in.

Here are the most common ways of apologising, starting with a very general apology to a very sincere one.

  • I'm sorry
  • I'm so sorry
  • I'm really sorry
  • I'm terribly / dreadfully / awfully sorry

In writing, you can make your apology more formal by using the verb to apologise.

  • I apologise for the delivery delay.

A more strong apology would be

  • I do apologise for …
  • I sincerely apologise for … 
  • I most sincerely apologise for …

A very formal apology is

  • Please accept our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience that may have been caused.

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Here are some common situations that require an apology, then the apology and a suitable reply to each apology. Practice them so you will know what to say if you need to apologise or to respond to an apology.

SituationApology Response
You bump into somebody on the corridor. Sorry! No problem. 
You are late for a meeting. I'm awfully/dreadfully sorry I'm late. It's okay. Just take a seat. 
You need to interrupt someone
who is working because you have to ask them a question. 
Sorry to bother you, could I just ask you a question? Yes of course. What do you need to know? 
You are late for an appointment. I'm really sorry to have kept you waiting. I got stuck in
Oh, dear. Well, let’s get
right down to business. 
You could not hear someone. I'm sorry but I didn't quite catch what you said. Sorry, I'll say it again. 
A colleague phoned to say she would be late for a meeting. Mary has asked me to say she's sorry she's going to be
late. She's been held up. 
Thanks for letting me know. 
You are talking to someone you have just met and have forgotten their name. I'm terribly sorry but I seem to have forgotten your name. No problem. It's Frank. Frank Jones. 
You have to tell a customer bad news. I'm sorry but we've had a problem with your car. Oh dear. I hope it's not too serious. 
You need help from someone. I'm sorry to impose on you but I really need your help. Not at all. What can I do for you? 
You have just bought something but
can't get it to work. 
I'm sorry to bother you, but there seems to be something
wrong with this. 
What seems to be the