How to say "I'm sorry" in Japanese

If you want to apologize in Japanese, there are a few expressions you can use.

1. ごめんなさい。Gomen'nasai.
2. すみません。Sumimasen.
3. 申し訳ありません。Moushiwake arimasen.
4. 申し訳ございません。Moushiwake gozaimasen.

The phrases (1) and (2) are the good basic expressions to remember. It's important to know that (2) can also be used as "Excuse me", while (1) does not have that usage. The phrases (3) and (4) are often used in formal situations such as business.

The English "I'm sorry" can also be used to show sympathy toward someone experiencing hardship. In Japanese, none of the expressions (1)-(4) can be used for that purpose. They can be only used for apology. Then what can you say in Japanese when you learn that someone is going through a tough time? Below are some suggestions.

5. そうですかあ。Sou desu kaa.
6. 大変でしたね。 Taihen deshita ne.
7. 大丈夫ですか? Daijoubu desu ka.
8. ご愁傷様でした。 Goshuushou-sama deshita.
9. ご愁傷様でございました。Goshuushou-sama de gozaimashita.

The phrase (5) is a simple expression "Is that so?", but it can be said with a sympathetic tone and sympathetic facial expressions. The phrase (6) means something like, "That was tough, wasn't it?" or "It must be/have been tough". It's a common expression to show your sympathy. The phrase (7) means "Are you all right?". The phrase (8) is used specifically toward someone whose loved one has passed away. If you want to be extra polite, you can use (9), but there is nothing wrong with using (8). The phrase (8) is a nice polite expression, and there is no need to feel obligated to use (9).   
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