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How to Apologize in Chinese like a Native

If you’ve just started learning Chinese, you may have wondered at some point, “How do I say sorry in Chinese?” Indeed, it’s vital to learn how to say sorry in Chinese culture, and any culture for that matter. We’re all human, and we all tend to make mistakes in the long journey of life, both small and large, and a fitting apology is almost always desired afterwards. This is when we need to say the “magic word” to make everything right again. Apologizing is the key to harmony in a relationship, as it can help you move past many unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.

There are different ways of how to say sorry in the Chinese language. As a language learner who just set sail for Chinese, this article will help you get a sense of the unique way native Chinese people apologize. After you master the art of apologizing in Chinese with this article, you’ll never have to worry about not knowing what to say when you make forgivable mistakes! What are you waiting for? Let’s delve into how to give an apology in Chinese Mandarin. Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Chinese Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

  1. The Most Important Apologizing Words
  2. How to Take the Blame
  3. Expressions for Formal and Business Situations
  4. Condolences
  5. Other Expressions
  6. How to respond
  7. Conclusion

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1. The Most Important Apologizing Words

First things first! Here are some of the most common ways to apologize in Chinese, with some grammar explanations to make things clearer for you. This includes how to say “sorry” and “excuse me” in Chinese, which are two phrases you definitely will want to know!

  • In Chinese: 对不起。
    Pinyin: dui bu qǐ
    In English: Sorry

The origin of this phrase is very interesting. Ancient Chinese people liked to showcase their knowledge by using couplets, which is a traditional form of art in the Chinese language. However, it’s often difficult to complete the pair. So, in order to express that they weren’t as knowledgeable as the person they were speaking to, people would say 对不起, which meant they weren’t able to complete the couplet. Later, it spread and become a popular way to apologize.

Now, you can use 对不起 for a simple sincere apology. But keep in mind that it also indicates that you owe someone for what you did, so be careful when you use it, as it can be seen as a strong word. It’s best suited for an occasion where you feel the need to own up to your mistake and desire forgiveness in return. To make it even more formal, you can add the subjective and objective, such as in: 我对不起你 (wǒ duì bu qǐ nǐ), meaning “I am sorry to you.”

  • In Chinese: 抱歉。
    Pinyin: bào qiàn
    In English: I am sorry (I hold my apology).

Compared to 对不起, 抱歉 is a lighter way to say I’m sorry in Chinese than the degree of apology that 对不起 entails. If there’s something you strongly feel sorry about and you feel desperate to express your apology, don’t use 抱歉 as it’s not sufficient to express your emotion in this context. 抱 literally means “hold,” and 歉 means “apology.” The whole word conveys a sense of guilt and regret, so if you ever feel bad about something and want to express it, this word is a good fit.

  • In Chinese: 不好意思。
    Pinyin: bù hǎo yì sī
    In English: Excuse me.

The literal meaning of 不好意思 is “feeling embarrassed or shy,” which indicates an even lighter degree of apology compared to 抱歉. For things that aren’t as significant or that you don’t personally feel extremely bad about, feel free to use this phrase to politely show your apology for the little inconvenience you caused, such as being late.

Sometimes Chinese people also use it for expressing their shy or awkward feelings. For example, when people feel too flattered and thus are embarrassed by a compliment, they might say 你说的我都不好意思了(nǐ shuō de wǒ dōu bù hǎo yì sī le), meaning “You are making me feel embarrassed.”

Additional note: You can also add 真 before any of the three phrases above. It means “really,” which adds a sincerity to the apology.


2. How to Take the Blame

  • In Chinese: 我错了。
    Pinyin: wǒ cuò le
    In English: It is my fault.

This can be used both seriously and casually. In a serious situation, it emphasizes the fact that you’re willing to admit your mistakes. You can also repeat it to comfort someone who’s unsatisfied or irritated by something trivial you did, usually with people you’re close with.

  • In Chinese: 是我不好。
    Pinyin: shì wǒ bù hǎo
    In English: It is my bad.

You can bravely admit your mistake by saying this. This is a neutral expression as well, which suits both serious and casual situations. You may want to add 原谅我吧 (yuán liàng wǒ ba), meaning “please forgive me,” right after to make your apology sound more genuine.

  • In Chinese: 责任全在我/是我的责任。
    Pinyin: zé rèn quán zài wǒ /shì wǒ de zé rèn
    In English: All the responsibility lies on me/It is all my responsibility.

This is a powerful expression for owning up to all the responsibility for something you’ve done. Essentially, this puts all of the blame on yourself.

  • In Chinese: 要怪就怪我吧。
    Pinyin: yào guài jiù guài wǒ ba
    In English: If you have to blame someone, blame me.

If there’s an embarrassing situation where someone has to own up to his/her mistake for the sake of a group, and you want to be the one who takes the fall, this is the right phrase to use. Usually, you need to add some good explanation right after in order to support the reason why you should be the one to take the blame. It’s sometimes good to be the one who admits the mistake, because everyone else may dearly appreciate your sacrifice for turning the embarrassment into a better atmosphere.


3. Expressions for Formal and Business Situations

3 Ways to Say Sorry

You’ll find this section extremely helpful and relevant if you’ve ever wondered how to say phrases like “Sorry I’m late,” in Chinese. Let’s take a look at the most common formal and business Chinese apologies.

  • In Chinese: 抱歉/不好意思/对不起,麻烦你了。
    Pinyin: bào qiàn / bù hǎo yì sī / duì bu qǐmá fán nǐ le
    In English: I am sorry to trouble you.
  • In Chinese: 抱歉/不好意思/对不起,我今天不能去了。
    Pinyin: bào qiàn / bù hǎo yì sī / duì bu qǐ, wǒ jīn tiān bú néng qù le
    In English: I am sorry that I won’t make it today.
  • In Chinese: 抱歉/不好意思/对不起,我要先走一步。
    Pinyin: bào qiàn / bù hǎo yì sī / duì bu qǐ, wǒ yào xiān zǒu yī bù
    In English: Sorry, I have to go.
  • In Chinese: 抱歉/不好意思/对不起,我来晚了。
    Pinyin: bào qiàn / bù hǎo yì sī / duì bu qǐ, wǒ lái wǎn le
    In English: Sorry that I am late.
  • In Chinese: 不好意思/抱歉,借过一下可以吗?
    Pinyin: bú hǎo yì sī / bào qiàn,jiè guò yī xià kě yǐ ma
    In English: Sorry, do you mind stepping aside?

For the phrases mentioned above, you can use different forms of “sorry” depending on the degree of importance regarding the specific event, and the part after the comma conveys different situations. Please feel free to substitute the phrase, keeping in mind that 对不起 indicates the strongest degree of apology, and 抱歉 is the second strongest one. 不好意思 indicates the least degree of apology of the three. You can always add some additional explanation after saying sorry, to make your situation more clear so that people can better understand your apology.

  • In Chinese: 打扰一下,请问发生什么了?
    Pinyin: dǎ rǎo yī xià, qǐng wèn fā shēng shén me le
    In English: Excuse me, what happened?

Although “Excuse me” in English indicates a sorry feeling, in Chinese it literally means “allow me to disturb you,” where 打扰 means “to disturb.”


4. Condolences

  • In Chinese: 很抱歉听到这个消息。
    Pinyin: hěn bào qiàn tīng dào zhè gè xiāo xī
    In English: I am sorry to hear that.

When learning how to say “I am sorry to hear that” in Chinese, you can now entail what we learned earlier. 抱歉, in this sentence, is used to express some specific event that you feel sorry about. You can also substitute 听到这个消息 meaning “to hear the news,” with many other things that you want to express your sadness about. This also goes for “I am sorry that…”.

  • In Chinese: 节哀顺变。
    Pinyin: jiē āi shùn biàn
    In English: I am so sorry for your loss.

Learning how to say “sorry for your loss” in Chinese may be one of the most important phrases you can master, and can be the difference between clearly expressing your sorrow for a loved one—or failing to. This is an old traditional phrase for comforting people who lost someone dear to them. 节哀 means “repress sadness,” and 顺变 means “let go of the accident and change.”


5. Other Expressions

Ways to Say Sorry

  • In Chinese: 我向你赔礼道歉。
    Pinyin: wǒ xiàng nǐ péi lǐ dào qiàn
    In English: Let me apologize to you.

赔礼 represents the action of compensating a formality for apologizing, which suggests a serious situation. When you use it, it may require some physical performance to fully express the apology, such as a bow or treating the person to a meal.

  • In Chinese: 你能原谅我吗?
    Pinyin: nǐ néng yuán liàng wǒ ma
    In English: Will you forgive me?

This phrase conveys a powerful desire for forgiveness, which is usually used for a fault that’s caused by a very serious condition.

  • In Chinese: 你别生气啊。
    Pinyin: nǐ bié shēng qì a
    In English: Don’t be mad.

This can be used for both serious and casual occasions when apologizing. Whenever a sentence-final interjection such as 啊 is included, the sentence is usually not as formal or serious, and indicates a softer expression.

  • In Chinese: 我不是故意的。
    Pinyin: wǒ bú shì gù yì de
    In English: I didn’t do it on purpose.

You can definitely use this phrase for self-defense for an act you didn’t intentionally commit. It’s usually added right after a “sorry” phrase.

  • In Chinese: 你别怪我啊。
    Pinyin: nǐ bié guài wǒ a
    In English: Please don’t blame me.

怪 can mean different things depending on the situation. For example, for an adjective it can mean “weird” or “strange.” Please keep in mind that it’s used as a verb meaning “blame” here.


6. How to respond

  • In Chinese: 没关系。
    Pinyin: méi guān xi
    In English: It’s fine.
  • In Chinese: 没事。
    Pinyin: méi shì
    In English: It’s okay.
  • In Chinese: 没什么大不了的。
    Pinyin: méi shén me dà bú liǎo de
    In English: It is no big deal.
  • In Chinese: 这有什么的。
    Pinyin: zhè yǒu shén me de
    In English: That is nothing.
  • In Chinese: 别放在心上。
    Pinyin: bié fàng zài xīn shàng
    In English: Don’t mind it.


7. Conclusion

Are you gaining more confidence after learning all the expressions along with the explicit explanations provided? It’s not as difficult as you thought, as long as you come to the right teacher and source to study Chinese!

Fortunately, here at ChineseClass101.com, you can find just this. Here, you’ll be able to obtain a delightful learning experience and acquire the best resources to help you speak Chinese like a native. What are you waiting for? Come visit us right now!

In the meantime, be sure to continue practicing these various ways of how to say “I am sorry” in the Chinese language. You’ll get the hang of it in no time!

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Learn Chinese Grammar (It’s simple!)

Chinese Verbs

  • Chinese verbs are not inflected… meaning that they don’t change form. Only one form of each verb exists; there is no conjugation.  It doesn’t matter who is talking, when they are talking about, or who they are talking to, the verb is the same.

Word Order

  • Since there is no conjugation of verbs in Chinese, Word order is often your only clue to figuring out who is doing what. The good news is, in normal Chinese declarative sentences, word order is the same as that we use in normal English declarative sentences, being:subject - verb - object

Negation of Verbs

  • Negation occurs before the verb and any prepositional phrase, just add a negation word, 不 ‘bu4′, in front of the verb.

Expressing Tense

  • Chinese verbs don’t change ‘tense’.  Rather, we use time words to indicate whether something will happen tomorrow, is happening now, or happened yesterday.  The Chinese language relies heavily on the use of adverbs to communicate what English and many other languages do with different verb tenses.

Measure Words / Classifiers

  • In Chinese measure or “counting” words must be used when objects are enumerated. Generally the format is number + measure word + object.  When the number is ‘1′, however, it’s OK to omit the number in that case.

Pronouns

  • Chinese has 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns.  They have singular (I, you, he, she and it) and plural forms (we, you, and they).  The same pronouns are used for subject, object, possession, etc.To make a pronoun plural, you simply add the suffix 们 (men) to the pronoun.

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