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Entschuldiging, Verzeihung, Es tut mir Leid, Mein Beileid….. Have you ever noticed how many different ways there are to say ‘sorry’ in German? It might leave you wondering whether there’s any difference between them, and if it’s better to say one over the other. In this post I’m going to explain the different German words and phrases meaning ‘Sorry’, and how to best to use them.
In English, the word ‘Sorry’ can mean different things. It is used in various situations, sometimes to mean ‘Excuse me’. For example, here’s what you say:
Now here’s how you would say the same things in German:
As you can see, there are a few different ways of saying ‘sorry’, depending on the situation. The words used above, plus a few others, are:
(Es) Tut mir Leid
Entschuldigung is the most common word and the one you probably will know from school/textbooks. It means both sorry and excuse me, and can be used casually, like when you bump into someone or approach someone to ask a question, or as a more formal way of apologising eg. for being late. In that sense, it’s pretty versatile. Note it’s never used when expressing you are sorry for someone else’s situation or loss, though. If someone tells you they’ve lost their job, you wouldn’t reply with ‘Entschuldigung’ but with ‘Es tut mir Leid’ (see below). The word Entschuldigung has the word ‘Schuld’ in it, which means fault or guilt (‘Es ist meine Schuld’ – ‘It is my fault’).
Verzeihung is similar to Entschuldigung, but a little more formal. It is similar to saying ‘Pardon’ or ‘Pardon me’ in English. Also, ‘Verzeih mir’ is how you’d say ‘Forgive me’.
(Es) Tut mir Leid Literally ‘It does me sorrow’, this is the one to use if you want to express you are sorry for someone else, like if they’ve just told you they’ve lost their job, for example, you’d say, Es tut mir Leid. This is also what you can say if you’ve screwed up and want to apologise for causing pain/distress etc. Without the ‘Es’ it sounds a little less sincere and a little more rushed. You might hear a quick ‘Tut mir Leid’ if someone bumps into you in the street, for example, or if they’re just saying ‘Sorry’ as a matter of habit and are not really sorry at all.
Mein Beileid This is how you say ‘Sorry for your loss’ in German. If you go to a card shop in Germany, in the ‘My condolences’ section you’ll find cards that say Mein Beileid or Herzliches Beileid (‘heartfelt condolences’) on them. This is the appropriate way of saying you are sorry for someone’s loss.
Wie bitte? This is how you say ‘Sorry?’ if you didn’t understand what was just said and you’d like the person to repeat it. Yes, the word Bitte means please, but it becomes a ‘Sorry?’ when you make it sound like a question! ‘Wie bitte?’ literally means ‘How, please?’
Leider This little word powerfully changes the meaning of a sentence, and can be the difference between sounding rude and sounding apologetic about a situation. For instance: The sentence ‘Ich kann nicht’ (‘I can’t’) sounds significantly more apologetic and regretful when you add the word leider – unfortunately: ‘Leider kann ich nicht’ – ‘Unfortunately, I can’t’.
Sorry Our final word for ‘sorry’ is…. Sorry! What with English or ‘Denglisch’ being used more and more in the German language, a lot of (mostly younger) Germans now use the word Sorry as part of their everyday vocabulary. This is very informal/colloquial, though, so don’t write off everything you’ve just learned in favour of an English loanword! 😉
I hope this post has cleared up any confusion you might’ve had about the different ways to say sorry in German. And If I’ve missed any out, do let me know!
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