Say Sorry & Thanks

The first thing that people learn when studying a language tends to be "Hello." But I'd wager that learning how to say "Excuse me," "Sorry," and "Thank you" is more important.

Three phrases?! That's way too much work.

You're right. Let's just learn one:

すみません。
Excuse me. // I'm sorry.
Literally: "excuse me."

Need to get the attention of a waiter? すみません.

Need to push through a crowd of people at the station? すみません.

Accidentally step on someone's foot? すみません.

Don't understand what your teacher's talking about after she's explained it three times in a row? すみません.

Someone give you a gift that you feel guilty about receiving? すみません.

すみません or すいません?

Sometimes in spoken Japanese, you'll hear people saying すいません instead of すみません. There is nothing wrong with doing this. However, when writing or in formal situations, I would stick with すみません. And I wouldn't be surprised if your teacher corrected you if you said すいません. Japanese teachers seem to give preference to "correct" Japanese over "natural" Japanese — a distinction that will always confuse me.

We will sometimes translate すみません as "I'm sorry," but there is another phrase that means this, too:

ごめんなさい。
I'm sorry.
Literally: "sorry."

Did you show up late to your lesson? Then the phrase ごめんなさい will surely prove useful to you.

You may have heard the more casual abbreviation of this word, ごめん:

ごめん。
ごめん。
I'm sorry.
Literally: "sorry."

↑ That's probably a bit too casual to be using with a teacher, but it will come in handy if you're hanging out with family or friends.


Teachers are pretty awesome. Generally speaking, they don't make very much money. And yet, they provide an incredible amount of value to students like you and me. Well, the good ones do, at least. ^_^

Let's show them the thanks they deserve:

ありがとうございます。
ありがとうございます。
Thank you.
Literally: "thank you."

I'm going to throw something a bit tricky at you. It's the past tense of "Thank you:"

ありがとうございました。
ありがとうございました。
Thank you.
Literally: "thank you."

How does "Thank you" have a past tense?

Good question. I'm not actually sure if we should be labeling ありがとうございます and ありがとうございました present and past tense, respectively. Instead, we just need to pay attention to the situations in which they are used.

ありがとうございます is a more general phrase meaning "Thank you." For example, if you couldn't catch what your teacher was saying, and then he typed it for you in your Google Doc, you could say ありがとうございます, "Thank you."

On the other hand, ありがとうございました tends to be used when you're thanking someone for something they did that took a significant amount of time. For example, if you have just completed a 1-hour lesson with a teacher, then you could say ありがとうございました at the end of it.

I would not use the casual, shortened form with your teacher, ありがとう:

ありがとう。
ありがとう。
Thanks.
Literally: "thanks."

↑ Well, maybe you'll use it if you're doing role play or something, and the teacher is supposed to be your friend or family member. Note that all we did is drop off the ございます at the end.


Practice time:

すみません。
Excuse me. // I'm sorry.
Literally: "excuse me."

ごめんなさい。
I'm sorry.
Literally: "sorry."

ごめん。
I'm sorry.
Literally: "sorry."

ありがとうございます。
Thank you.
Literally: "thank you."

ありがとうございました。
Thank you.
Literally: "thank you."

ありがとう。
Thanks.

Literally: "thanks."




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