How to say sorry in FrenchWhen it comes to finding ways to say ‘sorry’ in French, there are several expressions of regret, empathy or even apathy.

To say ‘sorry’ in French, it is possible to say pardon, désolé, je regrette, and more, but you might wish to know how to be more emphatic for more specific occasions, such as when hearing really bad news. On another topic, “I don’t mind” can be cela m’est égal when it means ‘it doesn’t make any difference to me’, je veux bien (said without enthusiasm) or cela ne me dérange pas if you want to say either ‘it isn’t a problem for me’, or, ‘I couldn’t care less’.

Here are some everyday situations to show you when to use each phrase:

Ca m’est égal

Q. On va au cinéma jeudi ou vendredi soir?

A. Ca m’est égal.
(Shall we go to the cinema on Thursday or Friday evening? I don’t mind.)

Q. Tu veux un thé ou un café?

A. Ca m’est égal.
(What would you like, tea or coffee? I don’t mind.)

Q. À quelle heure voulez-vous manger ce soir?

A. Ca nous est tout à fait égal.
(At what time wold you like to eat tonight? We really don’t mind.)

When a choice is offered, ‘ça m’est égal’ is the best way to translate I don’t mind.

Je veux bien

Q. Si on allait à la plage demain?

A. Oui, je veux bien.
(What about going to the beach tomorrow? I don’t mind)

Q. Tu viens avec moi en ville la semaine prochaine?

A. Je veux bien, moi.
(Do you want to come shopping with me next week? Yes, all right, I don’t mind.)

Q. On prend des pizzas pour ce soir?

A. Je veux bien, d’accord.
(Shall we get some pizzas for tea/dinner? OK, I don’t mind)

When a suggestion for plans is made, ‘je veux bien’, said without enthusiasm, is the best way to translate I don’t mind (said enthusiastically it will mean: ‘that will be great!’).

Cela/ça ne me dérange pas

This is the best way to say I don’t mind (it’s no trouble, no problem) in answer to a request for a favour.

Q Pourriez-vous me poster cette lettre en allant aux magasins?

A. Oui, bien sûr, ça ne me dérange pas du tout.
(Could you post this letter on your way to the shops? Yes of course! I don’t mind at all.

Note:

Ca m’est égal can also mean ‘I don’t care/ I couldn’t care less’, e.g. ‘ça m’est égal qu’il ne me parle plus’ (I couldn’t care less if he doesn’t speak to me any more.)

Non-verbal communication, your tone of voice, facial expression and gestures, plays a big part in conveying which meaning is intended.

When people apologise because of a slight problem, there is another phrase which can mean ‘I don’t mind/never mind/don’t worry about it’, and which can double for pas de problème. It is c’est pas grave. You can use it to answer someone who apologises for being late, or for forgetting something.

Tant pis means ‘never mind/it doesn’t matter’.

Pardon, excusez-moi

To attract a stranger’s attention, use pardon/excusez-mois: ‘Pardon, excusez-moi, madame, vous connaissez la Pizzeria Tino par hasard?’ (Excuse me, do you know the Pizzeria Tino at all?)

Pardon or excusez-moi can be used to get the attention of waiters, or any staff who are there to help. Or you can call: ‘Monsieur, s’il vous plaît!’

To apologise for a minor accident (dropping something, bumping someone or making a mistake), use pardon or excusez-moi.

Pardon is also used when you would like someone to repeat something.

Désolé(e)

‘Je suis désolé, monsieur, il n’y a plus de pain.’

Désolé(e) means that you are sorry that you cannot oblige or help someone.

Regretter(de)

Je regrette énormément d’avoir dit ça. (I am really very sorry I said that).

Ils regretteront toujours d’y avoir été. (They will always be sorry that they went (there).

Je regrette, mais les photocopies ne sont pas gratuites. (I am afraid/sorry that the photocopies are not free of charge).

Etre navré (de)

Nous avons été vraiment navrés d’apprendre cette triste nouvelle. (We were really sorry to hear this sad news.)

Nicole est navrée d’avoir fait tant de peine à ses parents. (Nicole is really sorry to have upset her parents).

Navré is probably the strongest way to sorry, to express sadness.

This article is an extract from Better French by Monique Jackman. Other key areas include using colloquial expressions, choosing correct verbs, mastering difficult structures.

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