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Mianhaeyo! How to Say “Sorry” in Korean


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How do you apologize in Korean? Well, there are two main ways to say “I’m sorry” in Korean: 죄송합니다, joesonghamnida, and 미안해요, mianhaeyo.

But wait! There’s more to it than that.

See, Korean culture has a hierarchical way of talking. What that means is, you have to talk more formally to those older or of higher status than you and use casual speech with those younger than you.

So it’s important that when you apologize in Korean, you pick the right way to say “I’m sorry”.

This means that you need to learn to conjugate the verb ending to fit the situation. (And yes — “sorry” in Korean is a verb, not an adjective!)

I know, I know. This sounds like a lot to learn compared to other languages where one or two simple phrases suffice.

But it’s not as bad as it sounds — in fact, Korean is a lot easier to learn than you think.

And in fact, “sorry” can be used in many ways in Korean, so you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck out of this lesson. Unlike in English where “sorry” just means “sorry”, Koreans use it for lots of situations.

Let’s jump into it.

How to Say “I’m Sorry” in Korean: Formal Version

First up, how do you say “I’m sorry” in Korean in formal situations?

We use the verb 죄송하다 (joesonghada). This is a verb meaning “to be sorry.”

Pay special attention to the 하다 (hada), because we’re going to switch gears for a second.

What is “hamnida” in Korean? It’s the formal ending of the verb 하다 (hada). When we’re talking to someone older than us, of higher status, or in formal situations, we use 합니다 (hamnida).

The verb 하다, hada, means “to be” and is a helping verb that often attaches to many different verbs. So learning its conjugation is invaluable, and we’ll use it a lot in this lesson. It is an irregular verb though.

It conjugates like this:

  • 하다, hada: Dictionary form
  • 해, hae: Informal form
  • 해요, haeyo: Polite form
  • 합니다, hamnida: Formal form

(Of course, there are other forms, and you can use this app to help you get started conjugating. But for now, these are the basics.)

So our helping verb 하다 (hada) gets conjugated in present tense based on the formality of the situation.

Now back to 죄송하다 (jeosonghada).

If we are speaking formally, how would we conjugate it?

That’s right. It would be 죄송합니다, joesonghamnida.

You can also say 죄송해요, joesonghaeyo, which is polite but not as polite. In general, though, 죄송합니다 (joesonghamnida) is the honorific and most formal way to apologize in Korean.

Pronunciation tip: Even though 죄송합니다 begins with a “j”, and Korean does have a “ch” character that is different, these two sounds often blend together a bit. The “j” in Korean is *very soft compared to the hard “j” in English. So it almost sounds like chesonghamnida or jwesonghamnida instead of joesonghamnida. (Just make it harder than “ch” but softer than “j”.)*

Also, the romanization is quite misleading. If you want to learn how best to pronounce Korean words, learn how to read Hangul.

How to Say “Sorry” in Korean: Informal Version

I love Korean dramas. LOVE them. I watch them all the time. And some of my friends watch them, too.

Knowing that I’ve been studying Korean, they asked me, “What does biane mean in Korean?”

This made me chuckle because I too thought it was “biane” when listening to the actors on the shows at first.

But what they should have been asking was, “What does *mianhae mean in Korean?”

Yes, if you want to know how do you say “sorry” in Korean, you can’t search biane. You have to look for mianhae!

This is the tricky part about Korean sometimes. Words often get smushed together and sound quite different than how it’s written. But you get used to it!

Anyway, back to “sorry” in Korean.

미안하다, mianhada, means “to be sorry” as well. But this time, it’s not honorific. It’s just “sorry.”

But do you notice that 하다 (hada) is also attached here too?

That means we can play around with this verb a lot!

So you can say:

  • 미안합니다, mianhamnida: “I’m sorry” in formal speech
  • 미안해요, mianhaeyo: “Sorry” in polite speech
  • 미안해, mianhae: “Sorry” in casual speech
  • 미안, mian: “Sorry” in as casual as it gets

Most often, you’ll hear 미안해요 (mianhaeyo) or 미안해 (mianhae). While 미안해 (mianhae) and 미안 (mian) are both casual, keeping hae attached shows more care and sincerity than a simple mian.

Other Ways to Apologize in Korean

Of course, like in English, there are other ways to apologize. You can say “I’m really sorry” or “it’s all my fault.” Sometimes, “excuse me” is appropriate.

The same is true in Korean, so let’s look at alternate phrases to use:

  • 진짜미안해요, jinjja mianhaeyo: “I’m really sorry”
  • 실례합니다, sillyehamnida: “Excuse me”
  • 잘못했습니다, jalmothaetseumnida: “I was wrong”
  • 제 잘못이에요, je jalmosieyo: “It’s my fault”
  • 용서해주세요, yongseohae juseyo: “Please forgive me”
  • 제발 화내지 마세요, jebal hwanaeji maseyo: “Please don’t be mad”
  • 사과하고 싶어요, sagwahago sipeoyo: “I’d like to apologize”

사과, sagwa, means “apologize.” So you can also use it in phrases like 진심으로 사과드립니다 (jinsimeulo sagwadeulimnida) which means “I sincerely apologize.”

You can also request an apology with 사과해주세요 (sagwahae juseyo). Notice you add 해, hae, to 사과, sagwa, which is a form of 하다, hada. 주세요 (juseyo) means “please.”

Don’t Forget The Honorifics!

I already mentioned how you need to use certain levels of formality to apologize in Korean. This depends on the age and seniority of the person you’re speaking to.

When in doubt, always use polite speech!

Besides that, there are also honorifics you should use when saying their name.

For example, adding 님 (nim) to their name or job title is most polite. It’s like saying “sir” or “ma’am.”

Examples:

  • 대표님, daepyonim: CEO
  • 선생님, seonsaengnim: Teacher
  • 할아버지님, harabeojinim: Grandfather

씨 (ssi) is another common Korean honorific. It’s more like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in English, and it’s always appropriate to add more respect.

You add it to the person’s full name or first name, like 이민호씨 (i min-ho-ssi)… Yes, like Korean idol Lee Min-ho.

So if you want to sound most sincere and show respect, add one of these honorifics to their name when addressing them. You can learn more about Korean honorifics here

Adding “I’m Sorry” to a Sentence

If you want to say “I’m sorry” within a sentence in Korean, then you need to add some grammar to it.

It’s a bit complicated if you’re new to Korean grammar, but you use 아 (a) or 어서 (eoseo) depending on the verb ending.

If the final vowel in the verb stem ends in 아 (a) or 오 (o), then you use 아. If the final vowel is anything else, you use 어서 (eoseo).

잊어버려서 미안해요.
ijeobeoryeoseo mianhaeyo
“I’m sorry I forgot.”

You could also -지만 (jiman) to the stem of 죄송하다 (joesonghada) or 미안하다 (mianhada) to say “I’m sorry but…” at the beginning of a sentence.

죄송하지만 갈 수 없습니다.
joesonghajiman gal su eobsseumnida
“I’m sorry but I can’t go.”

미안하지만 바쁘다.
mianhajiman bappeuda
“I’m sorry but I’m busy.”

How to Respond to “I’m Sorry” in Korean

But what if someone apologizes to you? What do you say then?

It’s important to know not only how to say you’re sorry, but also how to respond politely. It would be helpful to review Korean culture and etiquette so you also know how to respond with your body language.

And don’t forget to learn how to say “thank you” in Korean as well as essential Korean phrases.

But for now, you can say use these phrases to reply:

  • 괜찮아, gwaenchana: “It’s okay”
  • 걱정하지마, geokjeonghajima or 걱정마, geokjeongma: “Don’t worry”
  • 용서해줄게, yongseohaejulge: “I’ll forgive you”
  • 아니에요, 괜찮아요, aniyo, gwaenchanayo: “No, it’s okay. No worries”
  • 문제 없어요 (munje eobseoyo): “No problem”

괜찮아 (gwaenchana) or it’s polite form 괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo) is a really common way to reply to “I’m sorry” in Korean.

But also a simple wave of your hand and “아니요!” (aniyo) will work, too!

Mianhaeyo, But Our Korean Lesson is Over!

Sorry to break the news, but that’s it for our lesson today!

진짜미안해요! I’m really sorry!

But don’t worry. This Korean lesson may be over, but we’ve still got lots more you can learn. We’ve got a whole lot of Korean articles to help you keep moving forward.

So where will your Korean journey take you next?

Here are some ideas for your next steps in Korean:

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Caitlin Sacasas

Content Writer, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a content creator, fitness trainer, zero waster, language lover, and Star Wars nerd. She blogs about fitness and sustainability at Rebel Heart Beauty.

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

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