Apologizing: How to Say “I’m Sorry”

Young women's version of this guide

Couple fighting. A young man is apologizing,he's being ignored

Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes you may be aware that you’ve made a bad choice and other times, your intentions may be good but you still mess up.  This is because no one is perfect.  Saying “I’m sorry” usually clears the air but sometimes it’s not that easy to admit that you’re wrong.

What does it mean to say “I’m sorry”?

Depending on the situation, saying “I’m sorry” can make things almost instantly better between you and a friend or family member. Other times it could be the beginning of many conversations with your parent(s) or guardian until they are able to trust you again.  In any situation simply saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t work unless your words and actions are sincere. Usually people feel better after they apologize because it shows the other person that you are mature, that you recognize your mistake, and that you want to make things right.

When is it appropriate to say “I’m sorry”?

Usually you will know in your heart when you should apologize. Typically, you will feel badly if you said or did something that hurt someone else. You may not know that you did anything wrong right away. It may take a while for you to realize it. There are times when an apology can settle an argument or take away the hurt that you may have caused someone-even if you didn’t mean to. Examples of such times may include:

  • After breaking your curfew and staying out later than you were supposed to
  • After saying something hurtful to a friend
  • After breaking something that you borrowed from someone else
  • After telling a lie

What should I say?

Depending on the situation, you may need to simply say that you’re sorry or you may also need to explain why you did what you did. An apology might sound something like this:

  • I’m sorry. I should have come home before my curfew. Can you give me another chance? I want you to be able to trust me.
  • I’m very sorry for hurting your feelings.
  • I’m sorry. I should have been more careful when I borrowed your _____.
  • I’m not sure why I lied to you, but I want to make things right between us.

What should I say if someone says “I’m sorry” to me?

You may feel better after someone apologizes to you but you could also feel angry for a while if someone lied to you, ruined something of yours, or if someone broke their promise to you.  An apology may not always make things better, but it is a way of starting to gain closure to a situation. If someone hurt you deeply it will likely take some time for you to feel comfortable around that person again. If you accept a person’s apology, it is fine to tell them exactly that. For example, “I accept your apology. Please don’t ever lie to me again.”

What if saying I’m sorry isn’t enough?

There will be times when saying you’re sorry doesn’t necessarily make things better or solve your problems. It could take time for a friend to want to hang out with you again or for an adult to trust you again. You may decide to wait it out and see if things get better with time, or you may realize that it’s too complicated.  There are other times when you might apologize to someone and their reaction is very harsh, even threatening. No matter what you are apologizing for, it doesn’t mean you deserve to be the victim of someone else’s anger. If this should happen and you feel threatened, tell a parent or a trusted adult such as a teacher, counselor, or your health care provider right away.

Apologizing can take courage but in the end it builds trust and lessens resentment (bad feelings). Try to think before you speak, consider the possible consequences of your actions, and then make responsible choices.