Also, would you say something different whether that person is someone you know or not?

4 Answers 4


The most common ways are Sumimasen and Gomennasai. The first one is more formal while the second one can be used with people who are closer in terms of relationship


There is no most commonly used way, it depends on the situation.


  • わりい (←sounds like you aren't really showing remorse, male)
  • 悪い (male-ish)
  • すまん (male-ish)
  • ごめん

(If you say any of these twice in a row, like ごめんごめん, that also makes it sounds like you aren't showing remorse.)


  • 申し訳ない (feels proper but not particularly polite due to ending with a plain ない)
  • ごめんなさい (feels slightly childish)
  • すいません(でした) (probably the most common in everyday non-business speech)
  • すみません(でした)


  • 申し訳ありません(でした)
  • 申し訳ございません(でした)
  • 申し訳なく存じます
  • お詫び申し上げます

Often prefaced by 「大変ご迷惑をおかけして」 or similar, depending on how bad of a thing it was.

Especially in business, there are plenty more variations, but I'd say these are the more commons ones.

  • I'd perhaps add すまない to your list.
    – oals
    Aug 29, 2016 at 19:03
  • Would you use the politest form (business) in an educational situation as well, i.e. apologising to a teacher/professor, or is that 'regular'?
    – user1624
    Aug 29, 2016 at 19:58
  • @Ciaran I can't imagine a scenario where a student would use any of the "business" expressions to a teacher. If one were to be used, it would be 申し訳ありません, the others are just completely impossible. Of course between teachers and other staff, you would certainly hear the business apologies for anything particularly bad (similar to 社内). Aug 29, 2016 at 22:10
  • @oals Dunno, I feel like it's not that common in the real world (though I would not be surprised to hear it in some situations, like say someone much older apologizing to someone younger in a sort of tender moment). There are plenty of other apologies, like 面目ない, ソーリー, めんご, or whatever, but gotta draw the line somewhere... Aug 29, 2016 at 22:17
  • @Ciaran in an educational situation as well, i.e. apologising to a teacher/professor I think little kids tend to use ごめんなさい, and high school and university students tend to use すみません/すいません. (But not 申し訳ない)
    – chocolate
    Aug 30, 2016 at 16:35

In business situation, you should use 申し訳ございません or 申し訳ありません. It's more formal than すみません or ごめんなさい.


For apologies to friends, you should use Sumimasen
For formal situations, you should use Gomen nasai

Otherwise, you can also say Hontou ni gomen nasai

  • 2
    「すみません」と「ごめんなさい」が逆じゃない!? And, misspellings: ごめんなさい(Gomen nasai), not ごめなさい(Gomenasai), ほんとうに(Hontouni), not ほんとうにい(Hontounii)
    – chocolate
    Aug 29, 2016 at 13:36

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