“sorry” – 4 uses


One of the most overused words in England. Why do English people say sorry so often? Is it a reflex? Do they really mean it? Could it even be a way of apologising for class differences? Whatever the real reason, here are 4 ways to say and use it:

1. “forgive me”

You’ve done something wrong, this is the most literal meaning of sorry. Said with a falling (i) or fall-rising pattern (ii). You can stress both syllables and use a rise-fall to sound sarcastic (iii).

Joe, you’re spilling coffee on me.
i) ↘Sorry, I didn’t mean to!

2. “excuse me”

You need to communicate with somebody but they are not looking in your direction. Which word will you use to attract their attention? Sorry, of course, even if you are doing them a favour. A fall-rising pattern is usual here, we know something else is going to be said afterwards.

↘↗Sorry, do you happen to have the time?
↘↗Sorry, could I have a pint of ale please.
↘↗Sorry, I think you’ve dropped your wallet!

3. “what?”

You don’t quite catch what somebody says, instead of saying “what?” you can be more polite using “sorry”. A rising pattern is appropriate here.

Where is Borough Station?

That’ll be 400,000 pounds please.

4. “no”

You disagree with the person speaking to you. A perfect opportunity to use “sorry” – it’s probably slightly more polite than “no”, a fall-rising pattern is likely:

Chelsea are going to win the treble this year.
↘↗Sorry, no chance, Leicester are the team to watch now.

Can you pick the kids up today?
↘↗Sorry, I’m working until late.

According to this report on BBC futures, the British say sorry 8 times a day – it’s time to get started then![ssba]