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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
So when you want to apologise, you know the common phrase is ‘Gomennasai.’ However, you may also know that ‘Sumimasen’ means “I’m sorry.” as well.
So when should you use what?
It all depends on who you’re speaking to.
‘Sumimasen’ is the more formal word. It comes from an expression, ‘sumanai’ meaning “words are not enough to apologise what I’ve done.” You can use this in business or a public space. Please note that people don’t usually use this with their family and friends.
By the way; When you want to express a sincere apology to your boss and clients, ‘Moshiwake arimasen.’ is commonly used.
You can use ‘Gomennasai,’ or ‘gomen’, with your family and friends. Please note that ‘gomennasai’ is not usually used in business occasions. ‘Gomen’ is even more casual.
So what do you say when you break a cup at a cafe and want to apologise to the waiter? Unless the waiter is one of your friends, you’d say… ‘Sumimasen. ’ because you want to show your apology but you see him/her in the public space. You could say ‘Gomennasai’ here but ‘sumimasen’ is more common.
One more example:
You’re running late for a meet-up with your friend. When you finally arrive, you would say ‘Okurete, gomennasai.’ meaning “Sorry, I’m late.” ‘Gomennasai’ is okay because you’re speaking towards your friend. You can say ‘sumimasen’ as well but it might sound too formal amongs friends.
I hope this makes sense to you and you’re able to use "Gomennasai” and “Sumimasen” correctly from now on!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!


Please to leave a comment.
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JapanesePod101.com Verified
September 1st, 2015 at 06:30 PM
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What Japanese learning question do you have?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
June 13th, 2021 at 04:09 PM
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Hi Claudia,

Thank you for posting!

Yes, you might have heard people saying すみません and ごめんなさい.

We are glad to know that this lesson is helpful for you☺️

Thank you for learning Japanese with us:)



Team JapanesePod101.com

June 2nd, 2021 at 11:17 AM
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This cleared up a lot for me. I was confused hearing some people using other words instead of すみません。 When I address teachers and staff at Japanpod101 I shall just use すみません。 because it’s customary to use this with teachers. On the other hand, with friends and peers I can use the other versions of sorry, excuse me, when I learn them.

Please feel free to correct any misspelling you find with my Kana.


JapanesePod101.com Verified
January 7th, 2021 at 05:03 PM
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You’re right. I’ve just reported this issue to my team so that they can fix it right away.

Thank you so much for letting us know and I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

Please let us know if you have any questions :)



Team JapanesePod101.com

January 3rd, 2021 at 04:49 AM
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Hitoko-sensei's lessons and all Japanese101.com lessons are always fun and effective. I enjoy them a lot.

Please note that in both the video and the lesson transcript, there is a typo on the word "apologize" for it must be written with a "z".

I wish the best for this new year 2021.

JapanesePod101.com Verified
August 23rd, 2017 at 09:54 AM
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Raulさん こんにちは。


Thank you for your comment. I reply to you on behalf of her.

We are very glad to hear that you love our video lessons! ?

Your name seems to be ラウル(Rauru)from the spelling.

However, it would change depending on the actual pronunciation.

Stay tuned,


Team JapanesePod101.com

JapanesePod101.com Verified
August 15th, 2017 at 07:41 PM
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Konnichiwa Alexey,

Thank you for asking us!

Yes you can use dōmo for sumimasen(and Arigatō). "dōmo gomennasai" is not common that much, but it's also acceptable. Or you can say “Hontō ni gomennasai” and of course “mōshiwake arimasen” which are really strong ways to show your feeling of apology to others who you do not know or business field or who is not a close friend of you.

Keep up the good study! Cheers,


Team JapanesePod101.com

August 14th, 2017 at 07:59 PM
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Since it is possible to use "domo sumimasen" to say "I am very sorry", is it possible to use "domo" with "gomennasai" to emphasize it?? Or it is grammatically incorrect and the appropriate phrase is "moshiwake arimasen/moushiwake gozaimasen"?

PS I am really enjoying your lessons and the whole website as well. Thank you!

Japanesepod101.com Verified
June 27th, 2017 at 09:28 AM
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Louie san,


On behalf of Natsuko sensei, douitashimashit. You are welcome.

You can use ‘sumimasen’ from now on. ?

Yuki 由紀

Team JapanesePod101.com

June 8th, 2017 at 12:16 PM
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Arigato gozaimasu Hiroko-san.

I always use "gomenasai", i thought it is more formal/ polite to use than "sumimasen".

January 20th, 2017 at 10:49 PM
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こんにちわ 浩子さん

I'm from Brazil and becoming a huge fan of japanese101 work, thanks for all the lessons.

Raul do I introduce myself in japanese, I'm not sure about how my name will sound... Its pronounced as "haú or ハウ"