How To Say Sorry In Korean (with Audio!)

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This guide will not only introduce you to the word “아니요,” but also show you how to use it in various contexts. Get ready to listen, learn, and practice with native speakers, as we dive into the art of saying “no” in Korean.

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“미안해요” (mi-an-he-yo) is the go-to phrase for “I’m sorry” in Korean, perfect for polite apologies in various situations. Whether it’s a small mishap or talking to someone older or in a higher position, this phrase is your key to expressing regret and maintaining respect in Korean culture.

Basic Expressions for Apology

When you need to apologize in Korean, the context dictates whether you use formal or informal language. Recognizing the difference ensures you convey your regret appropriately.

Formal Apologies

In formal situations, where you are addressing someone with higher status or you want to show a high level of respect, use the following expressions:

  • 죄송합니다 (joesonghamnida): I am sorry; one of the most common formal apologies.
  • 정말 죄송합니다 (jeongmal joesonghamnida): I am really sorry; adds emphasis.
  • 대단히 죄송합니다 (daedanhi joesonghamnida): I am truly sorry; used to express deep regret.
  • 제 잘못이에요 (je jalmosieyo): It’s my fault; taking responsibility for a mistake.

Informal Apologies

With friends, family, or those younger than you, informal phrases are appropriate:

  • 미안 (mian): Sorry; a simple and direct way to apologize.
  • 미안해 (mianhae): I’m sorry; a more heartfelt informal apology.
  • 미안해요 (mianhaeyo): I’m sorry; slightly more polite than 미안해.

Remember, body language and tone are also crucial when apologizing in Korean culture.

Cultural Insights on Apologizing in Korea

Apologizing in Korea involves more than just words; it’s a profound expression of respect and self-reflection. Your understanding of the cultural subtext is crucial when offering an apology.

Understanding Korean Humility

In Korean culture, humility is not merely a virtue; it is embedded in the fabric of interpersonal relationships. When apologizing, it’s expected that you recognize your mistake fully and express genuine remorse. This acknowledgment is not about self-deprecation, but rather showing sincere respect for the other person and the social harmony. Phrases used to apologize vary in formality, aligning with the level of respect you intend to convey based on your relationship to the other person.

  • Informal expressions may be used with close friends or younger people.
    • “미안해 (mianhae)” translates to “I’m sorry.”
  • Formal apologies are appropriate for elders or in professional settings.
    • “죄송합니다 (joesonghamnida)” conveys a deep apology.

Regardless of the level of formality, your verbal apology must also be supported by an understanding of the appropriate actions and attitudes that reflect humility.

The Role of Body Language

Body language is as significant as the words you choose. Apologizing in Korea typically includes physical gestures that signal regret, such as a slight bow. The depth of the bow can correspond to the gravity of the apology:

  • Slight bow: For lighter apologies or with peers
  • Deep bow: To show profound respect or for serious apologies

Eye contact should be averted or lowered during the apology to demonstrate respect and remorse. This non-verbal communication reinforces the sincerity of your apology and shows that you understand the gravity of your actions.

Situational Apologies

When apologizing in Korean, it is crucial to consider the social context and the relationship you have with the person. Different expressions are used to convey sincerity and respect depending on who you are addressing.

Apologizing to Elders

When you apologize to someone older, a higher level of formality is required. You should use the formal 죄송합니다 (joesonghamnida) to express “I’m sorry.” Elders command great respect in Korean culture, so bowing your head slightly while apologizing emphasizes your sincerity.

  • Example: 죄송합니다, 지각을 해서 (joesonghamnida, jigageul haeseo) – “I’m sorry for being late.”

Apologizing in a Business Context

In a professional setting, using formal language is also essential. Use 실례합니다 (sillyehamnida) for “Excuse me” and 죄송합니다 (joesonghamnida) or 정말 죄송합니다 (jeongmal joesonghamnida) for a deeper apology.

  • Polite: 실례합니다, 제가 실수했습니다 (sillyehamnida, jega silsuhaetseumnida) – “Excuse me, I made a mistake.”
  • Formal: 정말 죄송합니다, 불편을 드려서 (jeongmal joesonghamnida, bulpyeoneul deuryeoseo) – “I am really sorry for the inconvenience.”

Apologizing to Peers

When apologizing to friends or people of similar age, a more casual tone is acceptable. You can use 미안 (mian) or 미안해 (mianhae).

  • Casual: 미안, 그런 의도가 아니었어 (mian, geureon uido ga anieosseo) – “Sorry, that was not my intention.”
  • Polite: 미안해요, 실수했어요 (mianhaeyo, silsuhaesseoyo) – “Sorry, I made a mistake.”

Responding to Apologies

In Korean culture, recognizing and responding to apologies is as important as delivering a sincere apology. When you receive an apology, your response should be gracious and considerate, signaling forgiveness or understanding.

Here’s a guide on how to respond to apologies in Korean:

  • If the apology is formal: You might say, “괜찮습니다” (gwaenchanhseumnida), meaning “It’s okay,” to convey forgiveness.
  • If you want to acknowledge the apology without making a statement about forgiveness: You can simply say, “알겠습니다” (algessseumnida), which translates to “I understand.”
KoreanRomanizationEnglish Translation
괜찮아요.Gwaenchanhayo.It’s okay.
상관없어요.Sanggwaneopseoyo.It doesn’t matter.
걱정마세요.Geokjeongmaseyo.Don’t worry about it.
괜찮습니다.Gwaenchanhseumnida.It’s all right.
알겠습니다.Algessseumnida.I understand.
아니에요, 괜찮아요.Aniyo, gwaenchanhayo.No, it’s fine.

Remember to match the level of formality of the received apology with your response. If a friend uses an informal apology, respond in kind. As Korean language and culture place a high value on respect and hierarchy, it’s essential to be mindful of these nuances.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it! “미안해요” (mi-an-he-yo) is your all-purpose, polite way to say “I’m sorry” in Korean. It’s a crucial phrase for navigating social situations with grace and respect.

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