“I’m sorry” in French: How to apologize like you mean it

It doesn’t matter what language you speak – mistakes happen. You step on people’s toes, you make a blunder in a conversation, or you need to get someone’s attention.

Knowing how to apologize – and how to forgive someone – is one of the most important things you can learn in any language, even if you are just visiting another country! Knowing how to say “I’m sorry” in French will help you avoid awkward situations, apologize for your mistakes, and make sure you don’t offend anyone – or at least know how to fix things if you do!

Why this lesson?

At some point, you will need to know how to apologize in French.
And you need to be good at it:
– In most instances, it has to be quick enough, or you’ll miss the occasion.
– In more serious situations, you need to know what you can say, because you don’t want to keep offending or hurting the other person.

There are specific things you should say in different situations.

But don’t worry! It’s actually fairly simple.

Learning goals: Know how to apologize in French properly according to your needs. (for all levels)

Bonjour c’est Géraldine, Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !

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1) How to say “I’m sorry” in French

Spoilers: Main Recap for how to say “I’m Sorry” in French

Pardon : when you want to apologize quickly
Excuse(z)-moi : when you want to be heard
Je suis désolé : when you’re remorseful (or empathetic)

a) “Pardon”

Pardon is the simple, straightforward way to say “Sorry” in French.

Example: “Pardon, je descends à cette station.” (=“Sorry, I get off at this station.”)

Cultural digression:le pardon” is forgiveness. French-speaking singer Jacques Brel wrote a great song (in the plural form) about it:“Pardons

If there’s a word in a conversation you didn’t hear or understand, you can ask “Pardon ?.”

It’s more elegant than “Quoi??”

b) Excuser

The main meaning of excuser is “to forgive.”
In French, a popular way to say “I’m sorry” is to ask “Forgive me”:
Excuse-moi (= “Forgive me”, with “tu”)
Excusez-moi (= “Forgive me”, with “vous”)

Excusez-moi, je crois que c’est ma place.” (= Excuse me [stranger], I believe this is my seat.)
Oh excuse-moi, j’ai oublié de te laisser du café !” (= Excuse me [friend or family], I forgot to leave you some coffee.)

You can be more specific even, in a formal way:
Excusez mon retard, j’étais coincé dans les bouchons. (= Please forgive my lateness, I was stuck in traffic.)

Excusez-moi is a bit longer than “Pardon”, but is also a very useful way to say “I’m sorry” in French. For instance, you can use it to ask people to slow down so you can understand:
Excusez-moi, vous pourriez parler moins vite, s’il vous plaît ?
(= I’m sorry, could you speak a little bit slower please?)

→ I have a lot more tips and useful word-by-word scripts for these situations in my episode Stop French Conversations from Switching Back to English!

SPECIAL LESSON: Please don’t make that mistake

Do not say “Je m’excuse”, “Je m’excuse pour mon retard…”, please.

It’s used by some people (and too many French people, even!) to say “Please excuse me”… But instead it actually means “I’m granting myself forgiveness.” This is a common mistake, and also rude. So use “Excusez-moi” instead.

This is the kind of classic mistakes and corrections you can learn (along with a lot of useful lessons) to Sound French even to the French: Modern French Vocabulary and Pronunciation 101click here to take a look!

When you want to grab a stranger’s attention (for a question or an indication), it sounds a little more natural in French to use “Excusez-moi” rather than “Pardon” In a way, “Excusez-moi” is used before you do any wrong, and “Pardon” is after. But the boundaries aren’t clear, so don’t sweat it.

c) “Désolé(e)”

Désolé (or Désolée in the feminine, with the same pronunciation) means “Sorry.”
Je suis désolé(e) is the literal translation for “I’m sorry.” And it’s a very common sentence as well!

It’s mostly used for things you already regret (while “Excusez-me” is asking forgiveness for what you’re about to do, like asking them a question for instance).

Je suis désolée, j’ai raté votre appel, j’étais sous la douche.
(= I’m sorry, but I missed your call. I was in the shower.)

It can also be used for “I’m sorry” in a more somber way. As I told you in my earlier episode about Sad Topics, “Je suis désolé” is one of the French words & phrases to express sympathy and sadness for very bad things that you didn’t do, as in “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It’s a different situation, where finding the right words can be difficult yet needed. In addition to the Sad Topics episode, I can also lead you to this really well-made guide for condolences in French by French florist network Interflora.

d) Autres façons

Simpler and more familiar than “Pardon”, you can also say “Oups !” to say “I’m Sorry” in French.
Much more formal is Je vous demande pardon (= I ask for your forgiveness). There’s a lot more weight to it, and it can be used when you want to be seen as extra-humble and remorseful.

Example : Je vous demande pardon d’avoir rayé votre voiture.
(= Please, forgive me, for scratching your car.)

Finally, if you need to say “Sorry, I have to go,” why not use a situation specific script from my earlier episode? How to say “I Have to Leave” in French
(Short answer: “Désolé, je dois partir” = I’m sorry, I have to go.)

2 - How to say “a mistake” in French

Spoilers: Main Recap of how to say “A Mistake” in French
Une erreur : any mistake
Une gaffe : a blunder
Une boulette : a mistake (colloquial and funny-sounding!)

So what can you apologize for, anyway?
Well, mainly, for faire une erreur (= making a mistake).

Colloquially, we sometimes say une boulette (= “a mistake”). It’s a funny word because it sounds funny, but also because it means a small ball, or a meatball!

We also say une bourde (=a mistake, a blunder), which is also colloquial but a little bit old-fashioned.

Un accident is an accident, while une faute can be an error (as in une faute de frappe = a typo) or a misconduct.

When we’re children (and adults too, even!), we often end up apologizing for making une bêtise (= mischief, or unintended mess, or childish blunder.) The famous song Les Bêtises draws up a long list of possible ones!

Dumb mistakes are also called une ânerie (= “a donkey-idea”, since donkeys are stereotyped as idiots), or une étourderie (= “thoughtless mistake”). Or even une gaffe (= a blunder). That’s where cartoon character Gaston Lagaffe takes his name from!

Un quiproquo is not the same as in English! In French, it means a misunderstanding: especially mistaking someone for somebody else.

Une maladresse is being clumsy!

Un impair is like a faux pas, a social mistake.

Finally, un oubli is an omission, forgetting something.

For all these nouns, we use the verb faire (une ânerie…) (= making a mistake), or in more formal situations (or for mistakes with the worst consequences) we say commettre (un impair…) (= “perpetrate” a mistake)

3 - How to forgive someone in French

Spoilers: Main Recap how to say “I forgive you” in French
Ne t’en fais pas : don’t worry about it
Je te pardonne : “I forgive you” (really formal, with weight)
Ce n’est pas ta faute : It’s not your fault

Let’s flip the script!
Let’s say someone told you “Pardon”, “Excuse-moi” or “Je suis désolé.”

How can you react? What should you say?

Well, the easiest answer is Ça ne fait rien (= that’s nothing). In everyday spoken French, we very often drop the “ne” from negative sentences: it becomes “Ça fait rien.”

A synonym is Ce n’est pas grave (=”it’s not serious, it’s no big deal”). Example from everyday spoken French: “Allez, c’est pas si grave.” (=“Alright, that wasn’t so bad.”)

You can also answer (Ne) t’en fais pas, “don’t worry about it.”
And for “vous” (stranger) instead of “tu” (friend), we say “(Ne) vous en faites pas.”

If you want to give more weight to your forgiving, you’d say C’est pardonné (= “It’s forgiven”), or even more formal and heavy: “Je vous pardonne.” / “Je te pardonne” (= “I forgive you”)

You can also acknowledge the wrong, but give excuses.
Tu n’as pas fait exprès. (= “You didn’t do it on purpose”) becomes, in everyday spoken French, “T’as pas fait exprès.”

It’s another way of saying Ce n’est pas ta faute (=”It’s not your fault”) or Ce n’est pas (de) votre faute (with “vous”). After all, Ça arrive à tout le monde (=”It happens to everybody”).

“So now we’re even? Come on, sans rancune ! (=”no hard feelings!”)”

Want to save this for later ?

Et toi ?

How would you apologize for something you did recently?

You can answer in French in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you!

For example:

“Excuse-moi d’avoir cassé ta tasse. Je t’en achèterai une autre demain.” (= “I’m sorry I broke your cup. I’ll buy you a new one tomorrow.”)

I’ll give you pointers for your mistakes and read all your replies on the blog!

And now:

→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂  

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Allez, salut 🙂

Bonne journée,

Join the conversation!

  • Hello, very useful lesson for beginners! I’m just commenting to let you know of a little mistake in the section a), “je descend*” shouldn’t it be rather “je descends”? Thanks and bonne continuation !

    • You’re absolutely right Jake!

      I’ll try to correct that right now 🙂

      Thanks for your input, have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • J’adore vos leçons, Géraldine! J’ai appris que le verbe ‘to apologize’ est ‘s’excuser. Alor, pourriez-vous m’aider à traduire la phrase suivante:

    They apologize to me.

    Est-ce qu’on peut dire ‘ Ils s’excusent à moi’ ??

    • Bonjour Del,
      C’est un peu compliqué.
      On dirait “Ils m’ont présenté leurs excuses” si on veut appuyer le “to me”.
      “Ils se sont excusés” si on veut appuyer “apologized”.
      Mais il n’y a pas de traduction littérale avec “s’excuser” ici.

  • Je vous (tu) prie de m’excuse(r). Ça marche? J’ai entendu parle que c’est plue polite que excuser-moi. Merci!

  • Je suis desolee, Je n’ai pas reussi a reparer la chaise. (…aussi, excusez-moi, mon computer n’ecrive pas des accents! )

    • Use the Alt key + the little bank of numbers on the right of your keyboard Rosie. So .. Alt + 130 = é. Voici, comme ça (Alt + 135 = ç) nous avons Géraldine de Comme une Française. Et oui, moi je suis anglais avec un ordinateur (computer) anglais. Et excusez-moi s’il vous plaît (Alt + 140) pour mes mots en anglais au debut ! 🙂

  • its funny, in some french lessons a few years back i was informed by the french woman leading the class that i, as an english person, was apologising too much, ‘the english all they do is apologise, french people never apologise’

    très drôle non? 🙂

  • “Pardon, je descend à cette station.” (=“Sorry, I get off at this station.”) should be
    “Pardon, je descends à cette station” (=”Sorry, I’m getting off at this station”)

  • Hello!
    If saying “Je m’excuse” is not advised, so we shouldn’t say, for example: “Il s’est excusé…”, “J’ai dû m’excuser auprès de…” either, right? In other words, we shouldn’t use the verb “s’excuser” at all.
    What should we say in these situations, then? Because, as you said in the video, it makes sense that “Je m’excuse” seems that you are apologising to yourself, but it’s just its pronominal form for the first person singular, meaning that you are “offering your excuses”, just like when we use it for the other persons. That shouldn’t be wrong.
    Thanks for the video!!!

    • Good question, Raphael.
      Your exemple are ok because, I think, they are retroactive. They assume they asked for forgiveness about [being late] and got it.
      It’s just that “Je m’excuse” when someone should say “Excusez-moi” gets on my nerves. This applies to “on the spot” apologies. 🙂

      • J’adore vos leçons, Géraldine! J’ai appris que le verbe ‘to apologize’ est ‘s’excuser. Alor, pourriez-vous m’aider à traduire la phrase suivante:

        They apologize to me.

        Est-ce qu’on peut dire ‘ Ils s’excusent à moi’ ??

        • Bonjour Dell,
          C’est un peu plus compliqué que ça car on ne peut pas utiliser “s’excuser” ici, pour faire une traduction littérale.
          On peut dire : Ils m’ont présenté leurs excuses.
          Ils se sont excusés.

  • Hello
    I am trying to keep all lessons but some kind of problem that i have but i am trying to start my learning level

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