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When living in a foreign country, you are bound to make cultural faux pas, mistakes, and other general errors.
It’s OK, though, as long as you know how to apologize for those mistakes. Therefore, learning how to say ‘I’m sorry’ in Korean will be very useful to know if you plan on spending any amount of time in Korea.
Not only will it help you smooth out mistakes and misunderstandings, but it will also show what great manners Mom taught you.
Below, we’ll show you the different ways for saying ‘I’m sorry’ in Korean with the Korean alphabet and romanization. Not only will you be able to apologize, but you’ll also be able to listen for apologies. If you can’t read the Korean alphabet yet, known as the 한글 (Hangeul), we recommend you learn that first. It’ll assist all your future Korean studies.
As a bonus, some of these ‘sorry’ words can be multi-purpose. We’ll show you how to use them. We’ve also included a free PDF guide for how to say “I’m Sorry” in Korean that you can take with you on the go. Check it out below:
Here we go!
Formal ‘I’m Sorry’ in Korean
1. 죄송합니다 (joesonghamnida)
2. 미안합니다 (mianhamnida)
Although the title of this article is ‘how to say ‘I’m sorry’ in Korean’, when speaking, the ‘I’ part is omitted. In Korean, it is obvious that you are the person who is sorry. Therefore, you just need to say the word for ‘sorry’.
Secondly, like saying ‘thank you’ in Korean, there are two different words for sorry.
The first one, 죄송합니다, is slightly more respectful, and this word would be the one that we recommend using if you only feel like learning one word for ‘sorry’. Remember to use your body language and voice tone to help convey your message. Face the person you are saying sorry to and slightly bow your head a little bit when saying sorry to acknowledge that you have made a mistake.
The second one (미안합니다) will also work well, so choose which one you like better!
Association for Formal ‘I’m Sorry’
We’ll use some associations to help us remember these Korean phrases. Associations are helpful tools that help you recall the vocabulary or phrase by using a story or image that’s easier to remember. You can use our associations or take them as an example to make your own
Do you know the American cartoon and movies G.I. Joe? It was popular in the 80’s to 90’s and we’ll use them to help help us remember 죄송합니다.
Their cartoon intro song was very memorable so imagine that the Joe song is needed to apologize formally in Korea. Just imagine you’re saying to yourself “Joe song, I need it” (this phrase isn’t exactly the same as 죄송합니다, that’s not always necessary. What’s important is that it helps you remember 죄송합니다.)
Standard ‘I’m Sorry’ in Korean
1. 죄송해요 (joesonghaeyo)
2. 미안해요 (mianhaeyo)
This is the standard level of politeness. In this case, both words can be used interchangeably.
When saying sorry, like saying thank you, people often use a level of politeness higher than they would normally. Therefore, often it is better to say 죄송합니다 rather than 죄송해요.
Associations for Standard ‘I’m Sorry’
This can use the same association of G.I. Joe again, only that -합니다 is changed to -해요, but this is really easy!
The G.I. Joe catchphrase was “Go Joe!” which sounds a lot like “Hey yo!” -해요. So just imagine the “Joe song” uses “Hey yo!” as its catchphrase in standard situations.
Informal ‘I’m Sorry’ in Korean
1. 미안해 (mianhae)
When speaking to people of a similar age who are close to you, use 미안해. You can also use it when speaking to young children.
If you are in a relationship with a Korean, then learn this word now as it can save your relationship! Note that 죄송해 isn’t used.
Try Your Own for Informal ‘I’m Sorry’
By now you can see that making associations can be fun and easy. Better yet, they help you remember the phrase much better (especially if the association is strange or unique). Can you make your own association for 미안해? We’ll start you out, it sounds kind of like “me” “and” “hey”. What story could you make for these words to associate with the informal “I’m sorry”?
Bonus Ways to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ in Korean
You can use ‘I’m sorry’ in Korean to express apologies. However, there are alternate expressions that you should use in certain cases where you’d use ‘sorry’ in English.
1. 잠시만요 (jamsimanyo)
This phrase means ‘just a moment’ or ‘hold on a second’. You would use this phrase when you’re trying to get through a crowded subway in Seoul. Rather than say ‘sorry’, you’d say 잠시만요.
You might also use this phrase when you’re on the phone or in the middle of a conversation and someone is trying to get your attention. This will be useful to tell the other person to hold on a moment.
2. 실례합니다 (sillyehamnida)
This phrase means ‘excuse me‘, as in ‘I am sorry for interrupting’. You might use this if you’re about to interrupt someone. The word 실례 means ‘discourtesy or bad manners’, so the phrase translates to ‘I do/have bad manners’.
Using ‘I’m Sorry’ in a Sentence
At the end of a sentence:
1. -아/어서 죄송합니다 (a/eoseo joesonghamnida)
If you want to say I’m sorry that I am … then you can use the above structure.
늦어서 죄송합니다 (neujeoseo joesonghamnida)
I’m sorry that I am late.
At the start of a sentence:
1. 죄송하지만… (joesonghajiman)
2. 죄송한데… (joesonghande)
Alternatively, you can put the word ‘sorry’ at the start of the sentence.
죄송하지만 못 가요 (joesonghajiman mot gayo)
I’m sorry but I can’t go.
This can also be used when asking for a favor.
죄송한데 사진 좀 찍어 주시겠어요? (joesonghande sajin jom jjigeo jusigesseoyo)
I’m sorry but could you take a picture for me please?
Now that you know how to say sorry in Korean, you can start using it. Remember that its usage is slightly different from how the word ‘sorry’ is used in English, so listen to Koreans, watch Korean dramas, and try to see how the word ‘sorry’ is used naturally in everyday Korean.