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I was in conversation with an acquaintance. They start talking about their kid, so I said something intended as a compliment to their child, but that led to them telling me about their kid's congenital disorder, which I didn't expect to hear at all. It wasn't my intention to pry into something so private and understandably painful that they probably didn't feel comfortable letting other people know.

This is a post hoc question, as looking back now I think I should have apologized more properly. I think I said something to the effect of 「余計なことを聞いちゃってすみません!」 But retrospectively I am not sure 「聞いてしまう」 was a good word, because I don't think I actually asked anything. Because of an honest mistake intended as a compliment, the flow of the conversation sort of compelled them to give me an explanation of a private situation which I worry might have made them feel unnecessarily uncomfortable, sad, or at the very least awkward. Also I don't think I should've described something so close to their heart as 「余計なこと」.

I would have been hesitant to use 変なこと too, because wouldn't that feel like I was saying their kid or their kid's condition was 変? I think neither of those is anything close to what I would like to express.

Maybe something like this?

辛い思いをさせちゃった事につきまして本当にすみませんでした!

不快な思いを思い出させてしまい誠に申し訳ございませんでした!

In English, it's common in such situations to say things like "Oh I'm sorry! I didn't know!" "I am so sorry! I didn't mean to pry."

I would like to know the best ways to apologize in this situation, in different registers: informal, formal, and business.

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I suppose it very much depends on the nature of the topic or just the course of the conversation. Practically I myself would fall into awkward silence or ask a few other questions so that I sort of get away from the specific case concerning the interlocutor.

That said, most probably 余計な事聞いてしまってごめんなさい actually works fine for saying sorry when you bring up a topic which leads to revealing unpleasant things to the person you are talking with (even if it is not a question).

A subtle thing is, putting ごめんなさい at the beginning sounds more natural: ごめんなさい、余計な事聞いてしまって。 (It could be just me, but ごめんなさい at the end sounds like a real apology for a thing you have done intentionally, which should not be the case in question.)

Using 変な事 is possible for some cases, but if you just asked e.g. how the child is doing, then it may not fit. It does not imply the child is 変, but describes the question itself. Other possibilities would be 立ち入ったこと/個人的な事. Using 余計な事 looks most neutral.

Regarding the register, it should be handled by endings: 聞いてしまって vs 聞いちゃって and すいません vs ごめん(なさい). The most casual is ごめん、余計な事聞いちゃって (or 終止形 is possible: 余計なこと聞いた).


As for the 辛い思いを... type, it is possible but the unpleasant thing must be something serious. For example, the child turns out to be dead in a car accident, it is possible to say 辛いこと(嫌な事)を思い出させてしまってごめんなさい. Otherwise if it is about some sort of handicap, then using つらいこと could offend her/him because it implies the handicap is a negative thing (in the similar way you worried about the use of 変).

#A minor thing: 事につきまして does not sound natural even if the register is corrected: 辛い思いをさせてしまったことにつきまして本当にすみません。 sounds over polite. 辛い思いをさせてしまってすいません should be enough.

Lastly 不快な思いをさせて is less likely. It fits more naturally when what you have done actually affects the person negatively. It is closer to 迷惑をかけて.

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  • Thank you very much for the answer! I asked about register because in business settings there usually seem to be formal 漢語 (I am referring to big words that rarely appear in everyday language) that convey similar meanings to simpler casual words. I wonder if there are such words that could be employed in this situation. My conversation didn't happen in a business setting, but I wanted to enrich my vocabulary for a rainy day.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 2:51
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    @EddieKal I think in most cases 余計なことを聞いて(しまって)すいません is fine. A related word may be 詮索. 余計な詮索でした/詮索するつもりはなかったのですが is like I asked the wrong question. Note that 余計な詮索でした sounds more natural when you are talking to a person of strictly higher status: e.g. a secretary to a politician or in the military/police.
    – sundowner
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 3:05

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