Ways to apologise in French and how to say ‘pardon, I didn’t hear you?’

Désolé, navré, pardon - knowing how to say sorry and which words to use in different contexts is a handy skill to have

You should not use the same formulation to say sorry for a small mistake you have made compared to someone receiving terrible news

Though ‘sorry’ is reportedly the hardest word to say, it is important to know how to say it in any language. 

This is particularly true in France where bad manners are frowned upon. 

However, apologies are less common in French than in English (where people can apologise when someone else bumps into them in the street) but below, we list seven ways to say you are sorry and the context in which to use each one. 


This is the most common way to apologise and can be used in most, if not all situations. 

If something sad has happened to your friend’s mother, you could say je suis désolé pour ta mère (I am sorry for your mother). If you forgot to bring something to a gathering, you could say je suis désolé, j’ai complètement zappé (I am sorry, I completely forgot).

If ever in doubt about how to express sorrow to someone, désolé is the safest word to use. 

Désolé can be used on its own or as part of je suis désolé, with the former being a little bit more informal. 

Read more: The French you learn at school is often not what you hear: 5 examples


Pardon is less common than désolé but it is still common and a little more formal than désolé

It is often employed when wanting to get past someone in a tight space or if you bump into someone. 

It is also used in the sense of demander pardon (asking for forgiveness). Depending on the context, this could be in a more serious matter, where you have committed a grave mistake. 

In the past, people would kneel down before the king or God to demander pardon.

Like in English, pardon is used to say sorry and to ask someone to repeat what they said if you did not hear them correctly, although it is quite formal. 


Je m’excuse (excuse me) is another of the most common ways to express sorrow. 

If you have done something wrong, then you say sorry by saying je m’excuse.

For example, if you are late for something, then you can say excusez-moi pour mon retard (excuse me for my lateness). 

Some people believe that you should never say je m’excuse as that means you are excusing yourself. 

Instead, you should ask to be excused: je vous prie de m’excuser or veuillez m’excuser. This is considerably more formal.

Read more: Four quick language tips to help you in everyday French

If you are writing an email or a text when saying sorry, you might say toutes mes excuses (all of my apologies) or je vous présente mes excuses les plus sincères (I present my most sincere apologies). 

You may be tempted to use excusez-moi when going past somebody in a tight space. However, a key difference between excusez-moi and pardon is that the former is used to get someone’s attention whereas the latter does not require any sort of answer, so pardon is better to use. 

Je suis navré 

Another formal way to say you are sorry is je suis navré. The best English translation would probably be ‘I am so sorry’ or ‘I am terribly sorry’. 

This expression would be used for something you want to express considerable sorrow for. For example, if you forgot to pick someone up from the station, you could say je suis vraiment navré d’avoir oublié (I am so sorry for forgetting). 

Navré originally means to be injured by being cut or stabbed, so to say je suis navré is strong. 

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When expressing sadness along with your apology, a good term to use is je regrette

Je regrette de t’avoir blessé means ‘I am sorry that I hurt you’. 

With this expression, you are not directly asking for forgiveness but rather expressing your regret for what you did or what happened. If you did something wrong, it is best to also ask for forgiveness. 

While regretting in English goes hand in hand with apologising, in French regretter literally means to be sorry. 

C’est de ma faute 

This expression means ‘it is my fault’ and will often be used in conjunction with désolé or pardon. The benefit of this phrase is truly taking responsibility for what has happened. 

Mes condoléances

Like in English, in the case of a death or serious bad news, you would present your condolences to someone by saying mes condoléances

For example, if a colleague’s brother died, you would say Sincères condoléances à vous et à votre famille (sincere condolences to you and your family). 

You would not use this expression to say sorry for a small mistake that you have made.