Imagine that you are in a crowded place in an English-speaking country. You want to politely ask someone to move but are not sure how. Here is today’s question from our reader Slava:
Hi! Would you like to explain the difference between “sorry” and “excuse me”? Thank you. - Slava
Hello, Slava, and thanks for asking.
In many situations, both “Excuse me” and “Sorry” are suitable.
To get someone’s attention
For example, you can use either “Excuse me” or “Sorry” to politely get someone’s attention. Let’s listen:
Excuse me, do you know where the Metro is?
Sorry, do you happen to have the time?
But when speaking to strangers, “Excuse me” is much more common.
To interrupt someone
We also use “Excuse me” and “Sorry” to politely interrupt a person or people to ask or tell them something. Listen:
Excuse me, everyone, the meeting is starting in five minutes.
Sorry, Shelly, can I get your thoughts on a gift idea?
To ask someone to move
“Excuse me” and “Sorry” are also used to politely ask someone to move so that we can walk past them or to apologize for bumping into someone. Let’s listen:
Excuse me, may I please get past? Thanks!
Sorry about that. It’s really crowded in here!
You heard the second speaker say, “Sorry about that.” This is a common way to say, “I’m sorry," when we make a small mistake.
To ask someone to repeat
And, we use “Excuse me” and “Sorry” when we need someone to repeat what they said. Have a listen:
Sorry, I didn’t hear that. Can you say it again?
Excuse me, can you speak a little louder? We can’t hear you in the back of the room.
Other times, only one of the phrases is suitable.
We use “I’m sorry” to:
- To tell someone that we regret something we did that affected the person in a bad way.
I’m so sorry for damaging your camera.
- To share unpleasant news.
I’m sorry but all the rooms this weekend are taken.
- Or to refuse an offer or request.
Sorry but I won't make it to dinner. I have to work late!
And we use “Excuse me” to:
- Politely tell someone that we are leaving a place.
Excuse me for a minute. I need to make a phone call.
And that’s Ask a Teacher.
I'm Ashley Thompson.
To ask another question, simply go to our website: learningenglish.voanews.com.
Words in This Story
politely - adv. in a way that has or shows good manners or respect for other people
interrupt - v. to do or say something that causes someone to stop speaking
phrase - n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence