14 Ways to Say Sorry in Chinese

October 19, 2022

Saying “I’m sorry” in any language can be difficult, but it can be especially challenging if you don’t know the word for it! We all apologize from time to time, so knowing how to say “I’m sorry” in Chinese is vitally important.

Since saying sorry in Chinese is not the same as in other languages, here are 14 ways to apologize in Chinese for almost any occasion. Read on to find out what these phrases are, how to pronounce them, when to say them, and ways to respond when someone says sorry in Chinese.

How to Apologize in Chinese

不好意思 Bù hǎoyìsi

English meaning: Excuse me

Literally, 不好意思 means “bad meaning” and it often used to mean “embarrassed”. This is the lightest and most informal way to apologize in Chinese; you can usually use this phrase to apologize in informal situations or for small mistakes.

For example:
Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ méi tīng dǒng. Nǐ néng zàishuō yībiàn ma?
I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. Can you say it again?

However, don’t always assume when someone says 不好意思 that they are apologizing in Chinese. This phrase can also be used to talk about embarrassment. For instance:

Wǒ bù hǎoyìsi wèn tā.
I’m embarrassed to ask him.

对不起 Duìbùqǐ

English meaning: I am sorry

对不起 is the most common way to say “I’m sorry” in Chinese. It is more formal than 不好意思 though, so make sure you aren’t dropping this casually into conversation. Only use 对不起 for serious offences or if you are truly regretful of your actions.

Duìbùqǐ, cǎile nǐ de jiǎo.
I’m sorry for stepping on your toe!

    对不起 can also be used as a verb meaning “to disappoint” or “to let someone down”. For example: 我对不起她 Wǒ duìbùqǐ tā (I let her down).

Sad face smiley

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Formal Apologies in Chinese

抱歉 bàoqiàn

English meaning: I am very sorry Technically, 抱歉 is an adjective meaning “apologetic”, so you cannot use it on its own like 不好意思 or 对不起. You can use 很 hěn, 真 zhēn, or 非常 fēicháng before 抱歉 to emphasize your regret.

This Chinese apology is used in formal situations, often if you are apologizing to someone in a position of authority.

Lǎobǎn, wǒ shàngbān chídàole. Hěn bàoqiàn!
Boss, I was late to work. I am very sorry!

    抱歉 literally means “to embrace (抱) regret (歉)”.

赔礼道歉 péilǐdàoqiàn

English meaning: My sincere apologies

If you thought “抱歉” was formal, this phrase is even more so! “赔礼道歉” is an exceptionally formal way to say sorry in Chinese and should only be used in formal writing or to apologize for extreme mistakes.

To give you a better idea of the seriousness of this phrase, this is also the way Chinese law refers to “making a formal apology” in legal matters. A word of caution: if the situation is not sufficiently formal or serious, people might think you are being sarcastic if you use “赔礼道歉” to apologize in Chinese.

Wǒ gēn nǐ péilǐ dàoqiàn.
I sincerely apologize to you.

    Did you know that “道歉 dàoqiàn” means “to apologize” in Chinese?

Man apologizing-sorry in Chinese

Image by SAIYED IRFAN A from Pixabay

How to Offer Condolences in Chinese

节哀顺变 Jié'āi shùnbiàn

English meaning: I’m sorry for your loss

Literally, this phrase means “restrain your grief and accept fate”. Yes, this sounds like a fancy way to say, “suck it up, buttercup”. No, your Chinese friends will not be insulted if you use this phrase to say “sorry for your loss” in Chinese.

In Chinese, directly saying “I’m sorry (对不起)” to offer your condolences sounds odd, as if you are apologizing for your role in the deceased’s death. In fact, before I learned this phrase, I had several friends tell me, “Why should you be sorry? You didn’t do anything!” Instead, 节哀顺变 is meant to offer emotional support and encouragement.

Wǒ tīng shuō nǐ yéyé qùshìle, jié'āi shùnbiàn.
I heard about your grandfather’s passing, I’m sorry for your loss.

很遗憾 Hěn yíhàn

English meaning: I deeply regret that…

This is the best way to say “I regret to inform you” in Chinese and can be used for declining an invitation or for relaying bad news. You can also say “非常遗憾 fēicháng yíhàn” or “真遗憾 zhēn yíhàn”.

Yīnwèi gōngzuò máng, suǒyǐ wǒ bùnéng hé nǐguò jiérì, wǒ hěn yíhàn.
I deeply regret that, as I am busy with work, I cannot spend the holiday with you.

candlelight in the dark

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

How to Apologize and Admit Fault in Chinese

是我的错 Shì wǒ de cuò

English meaning: It was my mistake

This Chinese apology phrase is a useful one if you need to take ownership of a mistake you made. You can also use it to say, “It’s my fault”.

Bonus: If you want to say, “It’s all my fault”, you can say “都是我的错 dōu shì wǒ de cuò”.

Zhège xiàngmù shībàile, shì wǒ de cuò.
It is my fault the project failed.

我错了 Wǒ cuò le

English meaning: I was wrong

Admitting you were wrong is not always easy, but in Chinese it is a snap with this phrase. 我错了 can be used to apologize in Chinese when a child is apologizing to a parent, a couple is apologizing to one another, or simply to mean “my bad”.

You can also say “是我不对 Shì wǒ bùduì” to the same effect.

Wǒ cuòle, tā bù xǐhuān píngguǒ, tā xǐhuān xīguā.
I was wrong, he doesn’t like apples, he likes watermelon.

是我的责任 Shì wǒ de zérèn

English meaning: I am responsible for this

This is a rather formal way to say sorry in Chinese, so you are more likely to hear it in the workplace. Claiming responsibility by saying “是我的责任” makes you sound very professional. Bonus points if you combine this phrase with 对不起! You can also say “责任全在我 Zérèn quán zài wǒ (The responsibility is all mine)”.

Duìbùqǐ, zhège xiàngmù shībài shì wǒ de zérèn.
I’m sorry, I am responsible for this project’s failure.

Anime girl with hand on chest

Image by ryo taka from Pixabay

How to Apologize for Disturbing Someone in Chinese

打扰一下 Dǎrǎo yīxià

English meaning: I’m sorry to disturb you

This is a good way to say sorry in Chinese to someone if you have interrupted them. For instance, if you knock on someone’s door or disrupt them from their work, this is a good opening line to smooth over the interruption.

Dǎrǎo yīxià, wǒ néng wèn nǐ yīgè wèntí ma?
Sorry to disturb you, may I ask you a question?

麻烦你了 Máfan nǐle

English meaning: I’m sorry to trouble you

If you think you might be annoying someone or interrupting them from doing other things, this is a handy way to say sorry to them in Chinese.

Also, if you are making a request of someone, it is polite to follow it with 麻烦你了 to show that you appreciate that they might need to go out of their way for you.

Even if your request isn’t much trouble, make sure to say “thank you” in Chinese!

Wèn nǐ zhème duō wèntí, máfan nǐle.
I’m sorry to trouble you by asking so many questions.

劳驾 Láojià

English meaning: Sorry, do you mind…?

劳驾 most often appears at the beginning of a sentence and is very similar to 麻烦你了. This phrase is a politely apologetic way to ask someone for a favor in Chinese, while acknowledging that you might be disturbing them.

Láojià, bǎ nà zhī bǐ dì gěi wǒ.
Sorry, do you mind passing me that pen?

    劳驾 literally means “to strain” (劳) “your esteemed self (a courteous and formal way of addressing someone)” (驾).

由此给您带来不便,敬请谅解 Yóu cǐ gěi nín dài lái bu biàn, jìng qǐng liàngjiě

English meaning: Sorry for the inconvenience

You will often come across this rather formal Chinese apology when streets, subway lines, or other areas are closed for renovations. But that’s not all this phrase can be used for — you can also use this sentence to say sorry to anyone who has been inconvenienced by your actions (or lack thereof).

Yīnwèi wǒ míngtiān qǐngjiàle, suǒyǐ huìyì qǔxiāole. Yóu cǐ gěi nín dài lái bu biàn, jìng qǐng liàngjiě.
I will be on leave tomorrow so the meeting is cancelled. I am sorry for the inconvenience.

抱歉耽误了(时间)Bàoqiàn dānwùle (shíjiān)

English meaning: Sorry for the delay

This phrase literally translates as “Please forgive me for delaying you(r time)”.

If you want to say “sorry for the delay” in Chinese, make sure you actually owe someone an apology before you say it. If you are not truly in delay, people may find it strange that you are apologizing for what appears to be no reason.

Wǒ huāle hěn cháng shíjiān lái huífù nǐ de diànzǐ yóujiàn, bàoqiàn dānwùle.
It took me a long time to respond to your email, I am sorry for the delay.

对不起,来迟了 Duìbùqǐ, lái chíle

English meaning: Sorry I am late

As you can see, there is not a unique phrase to apologize for being late in Chinese. You can simply say 对不起 followed by the fact that you were late. Super simple!

Elephants and outdoor dining tables

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Ways to Accept an Apology in Chinese

These ways to accept an apology in Chinese are all very straightforward and may be said in response to any of the above apologies. Still, make sure you actually mean it when you accept someone’s apology—if you don’t mean it, talk it out first!
Character Pinyin English
没关系 Méiguānxì It doesn’t matter
别担心 Bié dānxīn Don’t worry
算了吧 Suànle ba Forget about it
没事儿 Méishìr It’s nothing

Hopefully you will not need to say “sorry” in Chinese very frequently, but just in case you do, you are now well-prepared for every situation!

About the Author

Eden has been learning Chinese since 2008. She fell in love with the language, food, and culture and never looked back! Eden lived in China for six years, including in Harbin, Beijing, and Dali.

Eden- Author