As long as we are human, we are bound to make mistakes—a simple rule that applies doubly if you are a human trying to learn a foreign language! But what distinguishes a successful learner from an intransigent one is whether one can admit to one’s mistakes and redress them, right? So, don't shy away from speaking if you make mistakes in your Spanish. Sweeten your friends up instead with a candid apology! Here's a lesson about the most common ways to say “I'm sorry” in Spanish.
One short and very common way to say "I'm sorry" in Spanish is lo siento (literally, "I feel it"). Using the proper intonation, this phrase can help you get out of almost any sticky situation or mistake, but, and this is very important, you have to really mean it! Why? Because, just like "I'm sorry," this little Spanish phrase can also be used in a dismissive way, for example:
Lo siento, pequeña, pero aquí las cosas hay que ganárselas.
I'm sorry, little one, but here things have to be earned.
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Perhaps that's why it's very common to add the adverb mucho (a lot) to this phrase, as in lo siento mucho (I'm very sorry) as a way to make sure that the apologetic nature of one's lo siento gets properly transmitted. Another alternative is to use repetition to stress the importance of what you are saying... You can never be too sorry, right?
Bueno, sí, sí, sí, lo siento mucho, Andrea, por favor. -Ay, mire, lo siento, lo siento.
Well, yes, yes, yes, I am very sorry, Andrea, please. -Oh, look, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.Play Caption
But even lo siento mucho is not exclusively used to offer apologies. You can say it as a sarcastic remark, for example, or you can use the phrase lo siento mucho pero to casually introduce an excuse:
Lo siento mucho Mateo pero tengo que irme.
I'm very sorry, Mateo, but I have to leave.
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You may also hear people (especially in Spain) using que (as, since, that) instead of pero (but), as in lo siento mucho que:
Mariona... lo siento que llego de la biblioteca.
Mariona... I'm sorry as I'm coming from the library.
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Note that the expression siento que (without the pronoun lo) is also used to express empathy about an unfortunate situation:
Siento que te hayan despedido, Tomás.
I'm sorry you got fired, Tomas.
It’s also a good option when offering condolences (besides using the classic phrase mis condolencias, which is more formal and more impersonal):
Siento que perdieras a tu mamá, Lucía.
I'm sorry you lost your mom, Lucia.
Perdóna[me] and Discúlpa[me]
Here are some truly apologetic words! The noun perdón (forgiveness) and the verb perdonar (to forgive) have heavy connotations in Spanish. The reason behind this is that these words are rooted in legislative or ecclesiastical contexts in which the notion of perdón is intrinsically linked to the notion of culpa (guilt, fault). The same is true of the noun disculpa (apology, forgiveness, literally "non-guilt") and the verb disculpar (to forgive, literally "to take away the guilt"). There are subtle differences between using perdón and disculpa though. We will tackle those in our next lesson, so stay tuned!