Despite having a reputation in some circles of being rude, the French are a population that prides itself on good manners and etiquette. It’s no wonder there are so many ways to say please and thank you in French.
What is and isn’t socially acceptable is well defined, and if you overstep these boundaries knowing how to apologize will come in handy. There’s a multitude of ways of saying sorry in French.
To make your French language learning journey easy we have summarized the most important expressions here and categorized them depending on the situation in which you can use them.
Read on, study the examples with each expression, and avoid a painful “faux-pas” in the country of wine, cheese, and baguette.
How to Say Sorry in French at a Glance
Saying I'm sorry to get someone's attention
Pardon me / Sorry
Saying I'm sorry to apologize
It’s my fault
I ask for your forgiveness (Formal)
I ask for your forgiveness (Informal)
I am devastated
I am sorry to inform you
Saying I'm sorry to express condolences
How to Say I’m Sorry to Get Someone’s Attention
Did you know that France is the world’s most visited country, with almost 90 million tourists having travelled to France in 2018?
With that number of people crowding a country not so big in size, you are bound to have a “monsieur et madame” (sir and madam) in front of you blocking the way.
Here are two ways of saying “I’m sorry” in French and, politely, asking them to kindly move out of the way.
“Pardon” translates directly to the word “sorry” in English.
You will commonly hear people say Pardon! in the streets or on the subway, which many French people take to work in the morning. It doesn’t require a further explanation from the speaker nor an answer from the other person.
You might have guessed it “excusez-moi” means “excuse me” in English. Just like in English it is used to get someone’s attention or point something out to them. You would usually say something after “excusez-moi” such as:
Excusez-moi, votre lacet est défait – Excuse me, your shoelace is undone.
You can also use it to point out something to the waiter at a restaurant:
Excusez-moi, je n’aime pas les escargots – Excuse me, I don’t like snails.
How to Say I’m Sorry to Apologize
Be aware that neither “pardon” or “excusez-moi” count as a proper apology. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to apologize for a mistake at work, for letting down a friend or missing an appointment check out the options below.
Let’s imagine you accidentally let out the neighbor’s cat when you watered their plants during a hot Parisian summer. “Mon dieu!” (OMG) – You better find little “Minou” soon or memorize at least four different ways of apologizing.
Je suis désolé(e)
This might be the most popular and widely used way to say sorry in french. It literally translates to “I am sorry” and you can use it in all kinds of circumstances, at work, with friends or even with strangers.
In writing you have to be careful with the ending of the word désolé(e): A man would say “je suis désolé” (I (male) am sorry) with one e while a woman would say “je suis désolée” (I (female) am sorry) with two e’s.
A note on grammar: If you speak of a group of males you would say “nous sommes désolés” with one “e” and an “s” to include plurality.
If you speak of a group of women, you would use “nous sommes désolées” with two “e”’s to account for the female speakers and an “s” to include plurality.
Is your head spinning already or should I continue?
Now here comes the tricky part: When you speak about a group of women and only one man joins them, the whole group is turned male and you have to say “nous sommes désolés” using the male plural form. Spanish and Italian, among other languages, share this quirky detail.
Désolé(e) is the less formal alternative to “je suis désolé(e)”. While it doesn’t convey much heartfelt remorse it’s definitely a quick way of apologizing for a minor inconvenience.
Remember that our rules about the speaker being male or female, singular or plural, apply here as well.
C’est ma faute
This expression is quite similar to English, so you might have guessed it already. “C’est ma faute” means “it’s my fault” and while it isn’t an apology per se it’s can accompany one, as in this example:
Qui est-ce qui a mangé toute ma tarte tatin? – Who ate all of my tarte tatin (French apple pie)
Je suis désolé(e), c’est ma faute. – I’m sorry, it’s my fault.
Talking about tarte tatin, if you only try one French food, make it that one. You will never look at apple pie the same way again.
Je vous demande pardon
“Je vous demande pardon” could be translated to something like “I ask for your forgiveness”. It is rather formal and can be used with superiors at work for example.
(Notice the little word vous? It describes the formal you, used with strangers or people with whom you have a formal relationship.)
Je te demande pardon
“Je te demande pardon” is a very similar phrase to “Je vous demande pardon”. Can you find the difference?
While this expression also means “I ask for your forgiveness” the word “te” indicates an informal relationship with the person you address, it could be a friend or even a family member.
“Veuillez m’excuser” is a very formal expression in French for “I’m sorry”. You won’t hear it often but it conveys seriousness and sincerity, so you should definitely know and recognize it. It loosely is equivalent to “Would you please excuse me” in tone and formality.
The “veuillez” is actually the imperative of the verb vouloir (to want).
Je suis navré(e)
Now this is an expression that is rather uncommon but worth including it in your expanding vocabulary. “Je suis navre(e)” doesn’t translate well but expresses something like “I am devastated” or “I am heartbroken”.
Did you know that France is the country with the most nobel prize for literature winners? “Je suis navré(e)” is proof that the French like to use big words.
You can also use “je suis navré(e) to express your empathy and compassion towards another person. Check out this example:
J’ai raté mon examen final en Maths- I failed my final exam in Math.
Je suis navré(e) – I am so sorry for you.
Je suis au regret de vous informer
You will see this expression most often in writing and unfortunately, it never means good news. “Je suis au regret de vous informer” means “I am sorry to inform you” and is usually followed by a letter of rejection.
So when “La Sorbonne” (an elusive Parisian University comparable to the Ivy Leagues in the US) writes you a letter that starts with “Je suis au regret de vous informer” then you, my friend, will not study where Marie Curie and Simone de Beauvoir have once set foot.
How to Say I’m Sorry to Give Your Condolences
Expressing your condolences to someone who is grieving is never easy, but we have the right words for you. Let’s hope you won’t ever have to use any of the following expressions.
“Mes condoléances” is just one of the many expressions that English shares with French. Who said learning French was “difficile” (difficult)? “Mes condoléances” translates literally to “my condolences” and you can use it in the same way you would the English expression.
The phrase “mes sympathies” is more common in Canada than in France. While Candian and French French are similar enough, there are a few distinct differences in the choice of words, such as this one.
How to accept an apology
Any civilized interaction of apologizing requires you to accept the previously given apology. There’s nothing more awkward than someone trying to apologize and the other person not reciprocating anything.
It’s something akin to throwing in a few coins into a vending machine and the vending machine getting stuck just before your item falls out. It’s simply painful for everyone involved. So don’t be like a stuck vending machine and memorize some of the appropriate expressions below.
Ce n’est pas grave
What literally translates to “it’s not dire” can be expressed by something like “it’s fine” or “no worries”. This is pretty informal and you can use it no matter who you address.
N’en parlons plus
I particularly like this expression. “N’en parlons plus” means “Let’s not talk about it anymore” and I have always felt that someone has really forgiven you when they say “n’en parlons plus”. It means that the person is capable of seeing the bigger picture and moving on.
“I accept it” can only be used if someone has verbally offered their apology. You can’t accept something that isn’t there right? You can use “je l’accepte” with “je te demande pardon” and with “je vous demande pardon”. Check out the example below to better understand this exchange:
Je te demande pardon pour avoir mangé ta tarte tatin – I ask for your forgiveness about eating your tarte tatin.
J’accepte. – I accept.
There you go, now you can be friends again.
Today’s post is full of French words that sound like English, isn’t it? “Aucun problème” means, you might have guessed it “no problem” in English. You can use it whenever you want to move on and let the other person know that whatever happened, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Read next: Beautiful French Words (for Learners)
Ne vous inquiétez pas
“Ne vous inquiétez pas” literally translates to “no worries”. Do you recognize the word “vous” from previous expressions that we have looked at today? The “vous” indicates a formal relationship with the person you address, so only use this with strangers or people at work that you don’t know well.
Ne t’inquiete pas
“Ne t’inquiete pas” is a variation of “no worries” used in an informal setting. The word t’, which is abbreviated because the following word starts with a vocal, indicates that your conversation partner is a friend or family member, someone you are close with.
Bonus: How Can I Spice Up My Apologies?
The French have a thing with garnish, and not just on their plates. We have already learned that French people take every chance they can get to throw in some drama and pomp into their language. The adverbs “vraiment”, “tellement”, “profondement” and “sincerement” all add emphasis to your apologies. You can use any of these adverbs in the expression “je suis désolé(e)”. Let’s look at some examples:
Je suis tellement désolé(e) – I’m so sorry.
Je suis vraiment désolé(e) – I’m very sorry.
Je suis profondément désolé(e) – I’m profoundly sorry.
Je suis sincèrement désolé(e) – I’m sincerely sorry.
How NOT to Say I’m sorry
While “I excuse myself” might be a valid option in English, most French people would agree that it really isn’t in French. It makes you seem self-absorbed and self-centered, because it comes off as you excusing yourself, instead of asking for forgiveness from the person that you might have hurt. We imagine Marie Antoinette saying “je m’excuse” just before she suggested the poor French peasants eat cake. Don’t be like Marie Antoinette.
If you stayed with me until the end of this article you might be overwhelmed by all of the different expressions that you have at your display to say sorry in French.
Remember that you don’t need to memorize all of them. Pick your favorites and have fun with them! If you have trouble, my advice is to seek out those expressions that most closely resemble the English language.
French people frown upon tourists who don’t make an effort to learn the French language so we guarantee you that you will win their hearts with a couple of french expressions sprinkled into your conversations.