How to Say Sorry in Chinese like a Native

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

1. 对不起(duìbuqǐ)

“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”.

For example:


Duìbuqǐ, ràng nín jiǔ děng le. Lùshang dǔchē le.

I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I got stuck in traffic.



Duìbuqǐ, wǒ bù gāi duì nǐ fā huǒ de.

I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you.



Duìbuqǐ, zhè jiàn shì wǒ bàn bù dào.

I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.

2. 抱歉(bàoqiàn)

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.



Bàoqiàn, wǒ míngtiān qù bù liǎo. Wǒ míngtiān yǒu hěn duō shìqing yào zuò.

Sorry, I can't go. I’ve got a lot of things to do tomorrow.



Bàoqiàn, shíjiān dào le, nín děi líkāi le.

Sorry, time is up. You have to leave now.



Hěn bàoqiàn, wǒ jìn lì le.

I’m sorry. I did what I could.

3. 不好意思(bùhǎo 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.

For example:


Bù hǎo yì si, nǐ néng gàosu wǒ yínháng zěnme zǒu ma?

Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the bank?



Bù hǎo yì si, zhè shì wǒde zuòwèi.

Excuse me, this is my seat.



Bù hǎo yì si, nǐ néng zài shuō yī biàn ma?

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.

4. 是我不好/是我的错/是我不对

Shì wǒ bù hǎo / Shì wǒde cuò / Shì wǒ bù duì

My bad/My fault


5. 我不是故意的

Wǒ bù shì gùyì de

I didn’t mean it.


6. 我错了

Wǒ cuò le

I was wrong.


7. 下次不会了

Xià cì bù huì le

It won’t happen again.


8. 你别生气

Nǐ bié shēngqì

Don’t be mad.



Shì wǒ bù hǎo, wǒ ràng nǐ fēn xīn le.

It’s my fault. I distracted you.



Shì wǒ bù duì, nǐ bié shēngqì le.

Don’t be mad, it’s my fault.



Wǒ cuò le, wǒ bù gāi duì nǐ fā huǒ de. Xià cì bù huì le.

I was wrong. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you. It won’t happen again.



Duìbuqǐ, wǒ bù shì gùyì de. Wǒ péi nǐ yī gè xīn de bēizi ba.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. Let me buy you a new cup.



Bù hǎo yì si, wǒ bù shì gùyì dǎrǎo nǐ de.

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.


Méi guānxi

It’s okay.



Méi shì

It’s alright.



Méi shénme / méi shénme dà bù liǎo de

No big deal.



Zhè yǒu shénme

What’s the big deal?



Bù yào jǐn

Never mind.



Bié zài yì

No worries.



Bié fàng zài xīn shàng

Don’t worry about it.

Final Words

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.


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