How to Apologize in English (When You Make a Mistake)

Jul 17, 2019 | 11 comments

Oh no! You get an email from your boss asking where you were and realize you just missed a meeting! 😬 Now you need to apologize. But what’s the best way to apologize in English?

In English, we have the saying ‘everyone makes mistakes’, and it is a common saying for a reason: everyone does make mistakes. But, when it happens to you it sure doesn’t feel okay. The good news is, I can help you know how to apologize in English, without feeling too awkward.

You’ll learn exactly what to say and how to smooth things over so you can move forward.

Even better, by the end of this lesson you’ll know how to resolve mistakes gracefully and with confidence, both at work and in your daily life, with 4 simple steps.

4 steps to apologize in English.

Lesson by Annemarie

How to Apologize in English — Step-by-Step

Step 1: Admit the mistake.

It sounds easy, but this is something many people are uncomfortable with.

It takes a really mature person to own up or admit that they made a mistake. Hiding it or trying to cover it up frequently leads to trouble and as we say in English, it can come back to bite you! For the sake of your professional and social reputation, it’s much better to be honest and admit you’ve made a mistake. 

Mistakes are so common that we have many words for them, and will be useful in admitting it. We often use the present perfect when it happened recently or the effects of the mistake are still being felt.

You can say:

  • I’ve made a mistake. (a good one to use at work)
  • I’ve messed up. 
  • I’ve slipped up.
  • I’ve fudged that up.
  • I’ve mucked that up.
  • I’ve bungled that up.
  • I’ve made a blunder.

 

We also say things such as:

  • That was an oversight. (This is a good one for work.)
  • That was an epic fail!  (For a huge mistake)
  • Well, that was a disaster!
  • That was totally on me. (A good one for work)
  • My bad!
  • That was my fault. (A good one for work)

 

Of course, we sometimes get emotional about making mistakes. So it is natural to say things to express those feelings.

You can include these together with admitting your mistake:

  • Oh my goodness! I’ve made a mistake. (Some people say ‘oh my god’, or ‘OMG’ but please remember there are people who get offended by this language, so choose wisely based on your company.)
  • I can’t believe I did that! That was an epic fail! 
  • I can’t believe it! That’s my fault. (A good one for work)
  • That was silly! That was an oversight on my behalf. (A good one for work)
  • I’m so embarrassed! I’ve slipped up.
  • I’m so annoyed at myself! I definitely didn’t nail that.

Step 2: It’s time to apologize.

You’ve recognized you made a mistake, admitted it and got some of those feelings out.

Now the mature thing to do is to apologize. Of course, you could say, “I’m sorry.” But we have many more options to apologize in English.

Plus, we often use stress to show we’re genuinely sorry with some key words. For example, you’ll want to stress words like SO sorry and REALLY sorry.

Here are some of the best ways to apologize:

  • I’m REALLY sorry about that.
  • I’m SO sorry, my bad.
  • I’m GENUINELY sorry.
  • You can’t believe HOW sorry I am.
  • Please forgive me, I’m so sorry!

 

These are good ones to use at work:

  • I REALLY  want to apologize for that.
  • I hope you can accept my apologies.
  • I would like to apologize.
  • Please accept my sincere apologies. (This is very formal, it’s a good one to use in writing.)

 

(Hey, want to improve your pronunciation with word stress? Here’s my full lesson on How to Use Word Stress in English.)

Step 3: Explain what happened (briefly).

After apologizing, it is helpful to briefly explain what happened.

You don’t want your explanations to be too long and complicated or it will sound like you are just making excuses.

Keep it short and clear.

In a moment I’ll show you exactly how to do that by putting this all together but for now, here are some short explanations you can use:

  • I really didn’t mean for that to happen.
  • It was an accident.
  • That was not what I intended.

Step 4: Say how you’ll resolve it.

You’ve admitted you made a mistake and apologized. The last thing left to do is let people know what you’re doing to fix the mistake.

It might be what you’re doing right now or what you plan to do in the future to avoid this happening again.

You could say something like:

  • To make up for it, I’d like to… (do what right now?)
  • To make sure it doesn’t happen again, I want to… (do what in the future?)
  • You have my word that… (promise what will or won’t happen)
  • I’ll take care of this.
  • I plan on… (doing what?)
  • I’m working to fix this by… (doing what?)
  • I will have this taken care of by… (when?)
  • Please don’t worry, I’m already… (doing what?)

How to Apologize in English — An Example

Now you know all 4 steps to apologize in English and do it gracefully.

Let’s look at that example from earlier where you accidentally missed a meeting at work because you recorded the time incorrectly. It is a simple mistake with embarrassing consequences that make you feel unprofessional. But it’s not the end of the world. Remember, everyone makes mistakes.

Let’s just handle it with the 4 steps. Here’s an example of what you could say:

“Oh my goodness, that was a real oversight. I’m so sorry about that. I had that meeting down in my calendar for tomorrow. I would hate for this to happen again.  I want to be more careful in future, so I’ve found a great calendar we can use online and synch up all our meeting times. It has reminders, so this will not happen again.”

 

P.S. Want more lessons on how to deal with uncomfortable situations in English? Get all my lessons on topics like how to deal with rude questions or how to end a bad conversation in English.

Now it is time to practice what you have learned.

Choose one of these mistakes and tell me what you would say. Remember the 4 steps: Admit it; Apologize; Briefly explain; Say how you’re fixing it.

  1. You have lost some important paperwork at work. You have searched everywhere and cannot find it. What do you say to your team leader?
  2. You sent the wrong email to a potential business partner and in the email you included some private information about a different client. Your boss received a complaint about it.
  3. Your child brought the class mascot, a fluffy toy, home for the weekend. It is a class toy and all the kids get a turn to take it home. You put it through the washing machine it accidentally ended up pink. How do you handle things with the class teacher?
  4. Your friend loaned you a bag for your trip and you accidentally ripped the handle off because you used it to carry all your heavy books to the second hand store. 

Share your example in the comment section below. It’s the best place to get feedback and learn from others in the Confident English Community.

Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!

~ Annemarie

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