How the language betrays your real intention


Nobody is perfect, so everybody can make a serious mistake, which finally hurts another person, even unintentionally. In that case, you have to correct a mistake and say that you are really sorry for having done something. Unfortunately, expressing a real regret to somebody is another matter than only articulating “sorry”.  In that case, you have to be aware of the vocabulary, which you use, in order not to make excuses or fake apologies, which even could worsen the whole relationship between you and somebody who felt offended. One of the well-known relationship counsellors – Gary Chapman wrote a book “The Five Languages of Apology”, which is dedicated to this common problem of inability to make a true apology.


 The language of the phoney apologies

Do you know how many English expressions exist to describe or to make a “fake apology”? You can speak about: false apologies, making excuses, insincere apologies, non-apologies or phony apologies. No matter which expression you chose, the meaning is always the same: invalidation of your feelings and avoidance of admitting one’s guilt. So, what should you say to make a true apology? First, never say “I’m sorry, but…” as it will be treated directly as making excuses for your behavior without felt guilty of doing it, or it even can be regarded as an attempt of self-justification. What is more, it could be also regarded as a way of saving face and put the partial blame on the listener. Sometimes also happens to say something like “I’m sorry you feel that way”, which literally means that the reaction of the upset person to one’s behavior was inappropriate and it is only his or her fault why they felt offended.  If you really would like to say sorry, just focus on word order, like “I’m sorry you got upset” or “I’m sorry I made you feel that way”. Frankly speaking, saying “I’m sorry you don’t like it…” stands for an insincere apology, too. This sentence includes kind information of your future action, which could be understood as offensive to someone. The other example of phony apology is “I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t…” which is based on a blame-shift.


How to make an appropriate apology?

If you are responsible for the official correspondence, it’s better to write “Please accept our (sincerest) apologies”, as it sounds formal enough. Otherwise, you can just say “Please do not be mad at me”, which is mostly used during the informal conversations. The other way to become reconciled is taking the whole responsibility on yourself or criticize yourself by saying “Sorry, it was all my fault” or “How stupid/careless/ thoughtless of me”. You can also say “Please excuse my carelessness/forgetfulness/ignorance”, which is related to your inabilities.  Keep in mind that you can also use some special grammar constructions after just saying “I’m sorry”. For example, you can put the phrase “should have or should not have” to make an emphasis on the reason of having done something bad. Next, you can also make your sincere apology more strong by adding “really” or “so”. The other popular phrases are: “I owe you an apology” or “I have a confession to make”, but they are reserved only for a trivial negligence.

Gary Chapman described the five languages of apology, which you can read below.


Do you forgive me?

To make the apologizing person feel less upset, it is recommendable to say something, like; “Oh, it does not matter”, “That’s OK”, No worries” or “Don’t worry”. Offering some solution to this situation or follow-up is also desired. Otherwise, the person who made this apology should have asked you “Will you accept my apology?” Lastly, bear in mind that “Apology does not always mean that you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego” (unknown author).


The language of apologizing


The Fake Apology

Written by Aleksandra Święcicka. Journalist, web editor and social media expert. Communication Trainee at TermCoord