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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!