In English, the word “sorry” is not only used to apologize, but also to show sympathy, politeness, or disappointment. Sorry in Korean is only for apologies without much other meanings. Just like hello and goodbye in Korean, the way Korean people say “sorry” also shows that etiquette is very important in the Korean language and culture.
Based on different speech levels, there are both formal and informal to use sorry in Korean. Today we’ll show you 10 most common and useful ways to say sorry in Korean. By the end of this article, you’ll not only know how to use them in real-life situations, but also how to answers to other people’s apologies properly.
Let’s get started!
Most common way to say sorry in Korean
Before we learn to say sorry, first we need to know that unlike sorry in English, in Korean, apologize (사과하다) is a verb:
사과 (sa-gwa, “apology”) + 하다 (ha-da, “to do”)
In Korean, apologize and apple are pronounced and written the same way, so when some people in Korea are embarrassed to apologize, they give the person they are sorry to an apple and say, “Please accept my apple (사과 apology).”
When we apologize in English in a formal setting, the subject “I” cannot be omitted. However, in Korean, the subject part is omitted when apologizing. Therefore, we only need to say “죄송합니다”.
There are 10 common ways to say “sorry” in Korean:
|잘못했습니다||jal-mo-thay-seum-ni-da||It’s my fault./I made a mistake.|
|실례합니다||sil-lye-ham-ni-da||Pardon me./Excuse me.|
|잘못했어요||jal-mo-thay-seo-yo||It’s my fault./I made a mistake.|
Formal ways to say sorry in Korean
- 죄송합니다 (joe-song-ham-ni-da)
If you use 죄송합니다 to apologize with this word, it means that things are serious. It is generally rare to see Korean people use this word in private. The word 죄송합니다 appears more frequently when a celebrity or the government apologizes to the public to show the sincerity of the apology. It also indicates that one has indeed made a very serious mistake and asks for forgiveness.
- 미안합니다 (mi-an-ham-ni-da)
미안합니다 is usually used when there is a small scuffle in life, such as accidentally bumping into someone while walking, or accidentally stepping on someone. The degree of apology is not particularly deep, it is just to say that you are sorry or embarrassed.
In Korean, 미안합니다/죄송합니다 both mean sorry, but he degree of expression is different. Students who are new to Korean always use these two words indiscriminately.
- 실례합니다 (sil-lye-ham-ni-da)
It means the same as pardon me and excuse me in English. It is most appropriate when we want to interrupt someone’s conversation or ask for directions when traveling.
- 잘못했습니다 (jal-mo-thay-seum-ni-da)
It can be used when we need to ask for forgiveness for something we have done wrong. The original form of its verb is 잘못하다 – to make a mistake. Here it is in its past tense, which means I made a mistake. We can often hear it when a student apologizes to a teacher, or an employee apologizes to his or her boss.
- 사과드립니다 (sa-gwa-deu-rim-ni-da)
As we have learned at the beginning, apologize means 사과, and 드립니다 means give/offer sb something, so the meaning here is “I (offer/give) someone an apology”. It is often used in writing form, such as letters.
Polite and standard ways to say sorry in Korean
Here it is very simple, just change all the 합니다 in the formal way to 해요, and it will be the polite way. They are often used to apologize between colleagues or friends who do not know each other very well and they are only used in everyday spoken communication.. We occasionally hear them used by elders to juniors or by superiors to employees as well.
1. 죄송합니다 (joe-song-ham-ni-da)
➡️ 죄송해요 (jwe-song-hae-yo)
2. 미안합니다 (mi-an-ham-ni-da)
➡️ 미안해요 (mi-an-hae-yo)
3. 사과드립니다 (sa-gwa-deu-rim-ni-da.)
➡️ 사과드려요. (sa-gwa-deu-ryeo-yo)
4. 잘못했습니다 (jal-mo-thay-seum-ni-da)
➡️ 잘못했어요 (jal-mo-thay-seo-yo)
Casual ways to say sorry in Korean
- 미안해 (mi-an-hae)
It is the most common way to apologize to children or close friends or family members, simply by removing the ending 요 from the polite form when speaking.
Note, however, that it is only used in spoken language and that there is no casual form of “죄송합니다”.
Let’s take a look at the video below.
How to apologize in Korean in Different situations
There are many words in Korean that have different usages in different situations, so be sure to find out before you use them.
1. To family or close friends
A simple apology, to a lesser degree:
If you want to deepen the apology, you can precede it with an adverb of degree:
정말 미안해(jeong-mal mi-an-hae) – I’m really sorry.
진짜 미안해(jin-jia mi-an-hae) – I’m really sorry.
너무 미안해(neu-mu mi-an-hae) – I’m very sorry.
2. To normal friends, classmate, colleague:
The degree of error committed is not serious:
3. To people you don’t know well, supervisors and elders:
To apologize seriously for a relatively deep mistake:
4. Workplace and other more formal occasions
When making mistakes at work, often use:
사과 드려요 (sa-gwa deu-ryeo-yo)
사과 드립니다 (sa-gwa deu-rim-ni-da)
How to respond to sorry in Korean
In English, we also say sorry to people to express our regret or sympathy when we hear that something bad has happened to them, but in Korean, sorry is only used to apologize. So don’t say sorry to your friend when she/he fails an exam, they will think it’s weird.
Now that you have mastered how to say sorry in Korean, what can you say in response when someone makes a mistake and says sorry to you?
Of course, there are formal and informal ways of answering. We just need to choose the same form of response as the conversation.
1. It’s ok./ it’s fine.
Formal: 괜찮습니다. (gwaen-chan-sseum-ni-da)
Polite: 괜찮아요. (gwaen-cha-na-yo)
Casual: 괜찮아. (gwaen-cha-na)
2. It’s nothing.
Formal: 아닙니다. (a-nim-ni-da)
Polite: 아니에요. (a-ni-e-yo)
3. It’s not a big deal.
Formal: 별일 아닙니다. (byol-ril-a-nim-ni-da)
Polite: 별일 아니에요. (byol-ril-a-ni-e-yo)
4. Don’t worry about it.
Polite: 걱정 마세요. (gok-jjong ma-se-yo)
Casual: 걱정 마. (gok-jjong ma)
5. Think nothing of it./Forget it.
Polite: 신경쓰지 마세요. (sin-gyong-sseu-ji ma-se-yo)
Casual: 신경쓰지 마. (sin-gyong-sseu-ji ma)