In email communications, I have seen use of 申し訳ございません when saying sorry. How this phrase has been constructed and how it is different from すみません。


It literally means "There is no excuse", or "I have no excuse". Let's break it down:

  • 申{もう}す is the humbling version of 言{い}う
  • 言{い}い訳{わけ} means "excuse, explanation"
  • so 申{もう}し訳{わけ} is kind of a humbling version of 言{い}い訳{わけ}
  • ございます (or 御{ご}座{ざ}います in kanis but that's very rare; ござる in plain form) is polite version of ある, so ございません is a more polite way to mean "there is not"

As a result, 申{もう}し訳{わけ}ございません literally means "I have no excuse", and therefore is a very polite way to say "I'm sorry".

On the other hand, すみません is written 済{す}みません in kanjis. 済{す}む can mean "to feel at ease", so 済{す}みません might be translated as "I feel bad [for what I did]", which basically means "I'm sorry".

To sum it up:


I have no excuses


I feel sorry

Now as you may know, 申{もう}し訳{わけ}ございません is much more often used in formal contexts than すみません, which is not rude per se but would be considered not respectful enough in a working context, especially in emails.

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