10 Ways To Apologize Without Saying “Sorry”

Have you ever counted how many times you say the word “sorry” in a day? Chances are it’s more often than you think. A study conducted in 2016 by the BBC reports that Brits say it around eight times a day!

So where does this word come from? Sorry has been around since before the year 900, with roots in Old English and Middle English.

This pesky, although well-intentioned, little word tends to slip into situations where it doesn’t belong, such as when you accidentally bump into someone on your way to work, or when you don’t understand something.

The problem with saying “sorry” so often is that it loses its meaning when it’s needed to truly comfort another person. A sorry doesn’t sound so genuine when you’ve heard it a million times. So how do we fix this sorry epidemic?

Read on to figure out which interactions might benefit from another word (instead of sorry). You’d be surprised how many alternatives there are!

excuse me

Never underestimate the power of excuse me. Not only is it good manners, but it should be used instead of sorry in many situations.

Excuse me is a phrasal idiom used to be polite in a variety of situations, from getting someone’s attention to beginning a dissenting opinion.

It’s second nature to offer up a “sorry” when we run into someone while walking. But instead of blurting out one out, simply say “Excuse me!”

The definition of sorry is to feel “regret, distress, or to express sympathy.” Most of the situations we find ourselves in rarely evoke these kinds of emotions, especially running into someone! Excuse me both announces your presence and prepares the receiver for what you’re about to say.

Excuse me also works if you do something unexpected, like burp. And in a pinch, you can also use it to ask for clarification.

thank you

Here’s a phrase most of us have been taught since childhood (in addition to please, of course).

A thank you not only works wonders for making the person you’re talking to feel good, but also gives you a sense of gratitude. Are you constantly late? Instead of constantly apologizing for it, the next time you see your companion say, “Thank you so much for your patience.”

Thank, much like the word sorry, has been used since the year 900. Even its Old English root, thanc, expresses gratitude. The definition still holds true today: thank you is an expression of thanks or gratitude.

This helpful tip works in almost any situation that doesn’t need a sorry. “Thank you for listening to me,” instead of “I’m sorry I always vent to you.” Or how about “Thank you for explaining that to me,” instead of “I’m sorry, I don’t understand?”


Sorry is so ingrained in our everyday language that we’ll even say it to no one in particular. Walking with your friend and you trip over the sidewalk? “Oh, sorry.” How about if you’ve ever spilled a drink on the floor or on yourself? Have you accidentally let a “sorry” slip out then too?

This is where a good ol’ interjection works just fine.

Whoops! is one that implies you’ve made a mistake, but takes away any seriousness, and can liven up a faux pasWhoops is considered a variant of oops, which might be a shortened form of upsidaisyWhoops as an interjection became popular in the 1900s.

There are many others to choose from too, like oops, whoa, or uh oh. The interjection world is your oyster.


People have been using pardon as an interjection (short for “I beg your pardon”) since the 1800s, which may be why if you don’t use this word often, it can sound a little too posh and proper. But it has its uses in our everyday lives. In fact, it’s a great alternative to sorry because it shifts some of the responsibility to you.

When passing by someone in a tight space, pardon me alerts them to your presence and allows them to move out of the way. Saying “sorry” in the same scenario can seem like you’re inconveniencing the other person when that’s not true. Notice how many of these examples simply involve interacting in space with other human beings?

There are a couple other ways to use pardon to your benefit. For example, “Sorry to offend you” can sound harsh. “Pardon me for making you feel bad” relieves the other person from having to accept an apology.


So you’ve found yourself in a situation where you actually need to say “sorry.” As we’ve established, even a sorry with the most emotion behind it can sound trite if you use the word too often.

Switch up the script and exchange your “I’m sorry” for “I apologize.” We tend give apologize more weight because we don’t hear it as much as I’m sorry. An apology is an expression of remorse, and separating if from a trite “sorry” could help us take it much more seriously.

If you need a bit of extra help, throw in a modifier: “I truly apologize” or “I sincerely apologize” work in a pinch and will get your message across. There’s also the phrase my apologieswhich can be effective if used correctly.

Apologize is a great word because it can even prompt someone to respond: “I accept your apology.” Voilà!

my fault | my bad

While fault as well as bad sound negative in many contexts, when you use them to apologize for minor things, they bring some levity to your blunders. These expressions lean more toward slang and are very casual, so don’t use them in a serious environment in which pardon would be more appropriate!

Latin buffs will be familiar with mea culpa, which is Latin for my faultMy fault, which is an expression of culpability, can be used in a formal context. My bad is definitely informal and should be used only between friends.

Accidentally spill a drink on a friend? “Totally my fault / my bad, I’ll help you clean that up!” fits perfectly.

My fault and my bad both scratch the itch of needing to say something right away to smooth over a misstep. Since my bad in particular has been used since the 1980s, it’s possible you already have a place for it in your vocabulary. If you’re hip on newer slang, my b is a more recent alternative.

sorry not sorry

This slang is actually cheeky—it doesn’t really mean sorry, but it can be used in place of it anyways!

Beware: it’ll sound very unapologetic, but it asserts the fact that you don’t think an apology is necessary for being yourself.

The phrase can be traced back to the early 2000s, and it became bonafide slang thanks to its spread in the 2010s, when it starred in singer Demi Lovato’s song Sorry Not Sorry. It’s typically used as an assertion of identity directed toward those people who think you need to say “sorry” for living your best life.

Sorry not sorry works when you’re doing something for yourself, like taking the last cupcake at the company party or cutting someone off on the highway so you don’t miss your exit. This is slang, so best to save it for when you’re with your friends!

Can you repeat?

No, don’t repeat sorry! This one is about asking someone to repeat their question.

Instead of simply asking someone to repeat what they’ve said, too often we shift the blame to ourselves: “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.” Drop the sorry all together, it doesn’t belong here!

Repeat‘s definition is “to say or utter again,” and was recorded in English during the 14th century.

Asking someone to repeat themselves isn’t rude; it promotes healthy communication. Next time you don’t understand something, ask: “Could you repeat that point?”

regret | remorseful

Reserve these words for only the most serious of apologies. Regret and remorse are for when a simple sorry isn’t going to cut it. These two words hold much more gravitas than I apologize, too.

Both regret and remorse mean “to feel sorrow or disappointment.” That sorrow applies to things that have been done in the past or to something that was a failure. Let’s elaborate on these feelings a bit more: to make these words hold weight, imagine feeling penitent, or an intense sorrow for wrongdoing and a need to atone. Your apology will truly sound from the heart.

While we hope you’re never in such a state that these words are necessary, here is how you would use them in a sentence (instead of sorry): “I feel so much regret over what happened,” or “I’m really remorseful over how my actions made you feel.”


When comforting a good friend, it’s important to know whether they want advice, to be listened to, or to get your sympathy.

But giving sympathy can be difficult, and we often fall back on a phrase like, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” This doesn’t help your friend, nor does it make you feel like you’re being particularly helpful.

Sympathy sounds a lot like the word empathy, but they are not the same. Although they both come from the Greek root pathos, empathy is understanding what others are feeling to an extent of feeling it yourself, while sympathy is an acknowledgement of someone else’s emotions.

So, which should you try to channel on these occasions? Try expressing sympathy over whatever is ailing them. If they studied hard for a test but still didn’t do well, you can say “I know you studied a lot and it must be hard to find out you didn’t do as well as you thought.” This validates their emotions without making the event seem insurmountably negative.

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