Apologizing is a part of politeness as important as saying thank you. As a Chinese learner, when you apologize to someone, can you only think of the word “对不起”? It is indeed a good way to say sorry in Chinese. But there are many other ways we use to make an apology. Below, I will show you 8 ways to say I’m sorry in Mandarin Chinese.
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3 Common Ways to Say Sorry in Mandarin Chinese
“对不起” is a humble and formal way to express an apology in Chinese. If you have done something that caused someone any hurt, “对不起” is the best way to make a sincere apology. We can also say “对不住”.
I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I got stuck in traffic.
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you.
I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.
There is another way to show you’re sorry in Chinese. “抱歉” is synonymous with “对不起”. It means to feel guilty and uneasy. Now we often use “抱歉” to say no to requests.
Sorry, I can't go. I’ve got a lot of things to do tomorrow.
Sorry, time is up. You have to leave now.
I’m sorry. I did what I could.
3. 不好意思(bùhǎoyì si)
“不好意思” is a Chinese phrase for a less serious apology. It’s just a polite expression we use when disturbing or causing trouble to someone. For example, asking for directions or making a request to someone you don’t know. Sometimes the use of “不好意思” is similar to that of “excuse me” in English.
Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the bank?
Excuse me, this is my seat.
I’m sorry, could you say that again?
Note: When you need to make a formal apology, don’t use “不好意思” instead of “对不起”. Even if you want to use “不好意思”, you should first say “对不起” to express your sincerity. Otherwise, when “不好意思” is used alone, it will reduce the sincerity of your apology and show a tone of arrogance.
5 Other Ways to Say I’m Sorry in Chinese
There are also 5 expressions of apology in spoken Chinese, which are generally used among friends, colleagues, classmates and other acquaintances, or on more casual occasions. They can be used alone or in combination with other expressions of apology. The examples below will give you an idea how they are used.
My bad/My fault
I was wrong.
It won’t happen again.
Don’t be mad.
It’s my fault. I distracted you.
Don’t be mad, it’s my fault.
I was wrong. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you. It won’t happen again.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. Let me buy you a new cup.
I’m sorry. I didn't mean to bother you.
A Chinese Idiom about apologizing - 负荆请罪
There is a famous story about apologizing in Chinese history, that is, “负荆请罪(fùjīng-qǐngzuì)”.
During the warring States period, Lian Po and Lin Xiangru were officials in the State of Zhao. Lin Xiangru was promoted because of his meritorious services, and his position was higher than that of Lian Po. Lian Po was not convinced because he felt that his contribution was greater than that of Lin Xiangru. So Lian Po threatened to humiliate Lin Xiangru when he saw him. Lin Xiangru deliberately avoided meeting with Lian Po after hearing about it. People thought that Lin Xiangru was afraid of Lian Po.
But Lin Xiangru was not afraid of Lian Po at all. At that time, the State of Qin was a little afraid of the State of Zhao because of Lin Xiangru and Lian Po. If they were at odds with each other, it would only be beneficial to the State of Qin. So Lin Xiangru chose to pass over Lian’s threats. Lian Po was very moved when he knew about it. He came to Lin’s home with thorn sticks on his back. He said to Lin Xiangru, ashamed, “How silly of me. I didn’t expect you to be so magnanimous!” The two men eventually became very good friends.
That’s the story of “负荆请罪”. Now people will use this idiom to mean to admit their fault and ask for punishment.
How to Respond to an Apology in Mandarin Chinese
After learning to say sorry in Chinese, you must also want to know how to respond to other people’s apologies. You can use the following expressions.
No big deal.
What’s the big deal?
Don’t worry about it.
These are the eight ways to say sorry in Chinese. There may be some more expressions that are not mentioned in this article. But remember that the purpose of apologizing is to get people’s understanding and forgiveness. No apology can be compared with your sincerity. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know in the comments.