I mentioned in our lesson on すみません — which can mean “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” — that a good word for apologizing to someone when you’ve done something wrong is: Ah! We’ve got five new kana in this word. Let’s take a look at those now: ごめんなさい。
sorryNote how the "ah" sound in さ (sa) and the "ee" sound in い (i) merge together to form something similar to the "i" sound in words like "bike" or "might." So, さい is close in pronunciation to "sigh."
In the word ごめんなさい, we see ご, which sounds like “go” (with a “g”). Note how it has those two little marks to the top right of it, which change the “k” sound in こ to a “g” sound. There is more info on this practice in our kana lessons.If you bump into an old lady and she falls down, say ごめんなさい.If you’re taking a picture for a fellow tourist and you accidentally drop their phone into the Sumida River, say… ごめんなさい.You can even throw in a little あっ before it to show that it was accidental. We’d probably translate this as “Ah” or “Oh.” Looks like we’ve got a couple of new hiragana characters to introduce:While あ is pretty straightforward, the character つ here is a little different. It’s usually pronounced “tsu.”When a small っ appears at the end of a word, it means that you should cut the vowel sound coming before it short. If that doesn’t make sense to you just yet, just try to notice how a word sounds when a little っ is at the end of it. あっ、ごめんなさい。
Oh, I'm sorry.
How to say “sorry” a little more casuallyLong, long ago, I was sitting in a lecture at a Japanese language school in Shinjuku, in central Tokyo. I’d been waiting for a call from a real estate agent that morning because I was trying to get this apartment to move into.And of course, the real estate agent decided to wait and call me when I was in class. I didn’t want to be rude, but I also didn’t want to miss the call, so I oh-so-stealthily slipped out of the classroom while the teacher was in the middle of her lecture.When I walked back into the class, the teacher stopped what she was doing and looked at me like, Hey, what was that about?I wanted to say “sorry.” Accordingly, I should have said:Instead, I messed up and used the more casual:ごめん, she repeated, seemingly in misbelief. On top of rather rudely leaving the class right while she was in the middle of teaching, I came back and used overly casual language when apologizing. Double rudeness!Since then, I’ve been a bit more careful about using the more formal ごめんなさい when necessary.Speaking of formality, in these travel lessons we’ll mostly be using the standard formality/politeness level that is appropriate when talking to strangers, people you don’t know that well, etc.Every now and then I can’t help but introduce some casual language, though. Aside from (in my opinion) being more fun to learn, casual language in Japanese tends to be a lot less complicated, too, which is nice.But even determining what is formal and what is not can be kind of tricky.For example, we already saw すみません, yeah?They teach that word in all of the textbooks, Japanese classes, and so on.But you’re less likely to come across resources that teach this word:
I wouldn’t say that すいません is “casual language.” Rather, it’s just a colloquial form of すみません that you’ll often hear. In case you didn’t notice, the only difference between this and the more formal/standard すみません is that the み is becoming い. すいません！
Excuse me! // I'm sorry!
excuse meYou could call this out when trying to get a server's attention at a casual restaurant or izakaya.
Sign up for more!
This is a small sample of our lessons which will take you from knowing no Japanese to achieving fluency. Consider signing up to gain access to all of our content or continue reading free lessons!