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How to Say Sorry in Cantonese

How to say sorry is one of the first things that a traveler or a language learner should learn—knowing how to say sorry helps us better communicate and maintain relationships with new friends, especially in Hong Kong where we are famous for our politeness. That said, it’s quite important to learn how to say sorry in Cantonese culture.

There are various ways to say sorry in English, such as “I am sorry,” My apologies,” and many more. It’s the same for Cantonese; we have different phrases to express our apologies for formal, informal, and specific occasions. Let’s go through some of the most widely-used phrases for apology in Cantonese below together! Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Cantonese Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

  1. The Two Most Common Phrases
  2. Formal Apologies
  3. Other Phrases
  4. How to Answer to Sorry
  5. Manner & Gesture when You Say Sorry
  6. Written Form of “I am Sorry”
  7. Bonus: Hot Topic of the City
  8. Conclusion: How CantoneseClass101 can Help You Learn More Cantonese

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1. The Two Most Common Phrases

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The two most common Cantonese phrases for saying sorry are 對唔住 (deoi3 m4 zyu6) and 唔好意思 (m4 ho2 ji3 si3). They’re applicable to a wide range of circumstances, so learning how to use them to say sorry in learning Cantonese is vital. When learning how to say sorry in Cantonese, these words and phrases may just be your saving grace in various situations.

1- 對唔住

  • Romanization: deoi3 m4 zyu6
  • Meaning: Sorry

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 對唔住,我打爛咗你部電腦。
  • Romanization: deoi3 m4 zyu6, ngo5 daa2 laan6 zo2 nei5 bou6 din6 nou5.
  • Meaning: Sorry, I broke your computer.

Explanation / Notes:
This phrase literally means “sorry” and can be used in both formal and informal settings. Note that we only use this phrase when we want to express our apology and remorse. If you want to say that you’re sorry in the sense of expressing your regret or sadness over a news story or an incident, 唔好意思 (m4 ho2 ji3 si3) is more suitable.

We usually put 對唔住 (deoi3 m4 zyu6) at the start of the sentence. As it’s a phrase rather than a word, we seldom use it in the middle of a sentence unless we’re quoting it as a noun phrase.

2- 唔好意思

  • Romanization: m4 ho2 ji3 si3
  • Meaning: Excuse me / Sorry

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 唔好意思,剩返七碼咋。
  • Romanization: m4 hou2 ji3 si3, zing6 faan1 cat1 maa5 zaa3.
  • Meaning: I’m sorry, we only have size 7 left.

Explanation / Notes:
This phrase is applicable to a wider range of contexts compared to 對唔住 (deoi3 m4 zyu6) and can be used both formally and informally. There are, broadly, three scenarios where you can use 唔好意思 (m4 ho2 ji3 si3), including grabbing someone’s attention (i.e. “excuse me”), expressing your regret or sadness over bad news or an incident, and apologizing for minor incidents.

  • To grab someone’s attention:
    • Cantonese character: 唔好意思,閘口喺邊?
    • Romanization: m4 ho2 ji3 si3, zaap6 hau2 hai2 bin1?
    • Meaning: Excuse me, where is the entrance?
  • To express your regret over bad news:
    • Cantonese character: 唔好意思,無貨喇。
    • Romanization: m4 ho2 ji3 si3, mou5 fo3 laa3.
    • Meaning: I’m sorry, it is out of stock.
  • To apologize for a minor incident:
    • Cantonese character: 唔好意思,唔小心踩到你。
    • Romanization: m4 ho2 ji3 si3, m4 siu2 sam1 caai2 dou2 nei5.
    • Meaning: I’m sorry for stepping on your shoes accidentally.

Comparatively, 對唔住 (deoi3 m4 zyu6) is more formal and is mainly reserved for serious offenses. When you’re speaking informally with friends, the most common apology is 唔好意思 (m4 hou2 ji3 si3). You can use both apologies to make your way through a crowd.


2. Formal Apologies

There are some phrases we reserve for serious and formal apologies, which are usually used in business settings.

Woman Bowing

1- 我衷心道歉

  • Romanization: ngo5 cung1 sam1 dou6 hip3.
  • Meaning: I sincerely apologize.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 對於今日發生嘅事故,我衷心道歉。
  • Romanization: deoi3 jyu1 gam1 jat6 faat3 sang1 ge3 si6 gu3, ngo5 cung1 sam1 dou6 hip3.
  • Meaning: I sincerely apologize for the incident that happened today.

2- 我想道歉

  • Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 dou6 hip3.
  • Meaning: I would like to apologize.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 我匯報得唔好,我想道歉。
  • Romanization: ngo5 wui6 bou3 dak1 m4 hou2, ngo5 soeng2 dou6 hip3.
  • Meaning: I would like to apologize for my poor presentation.


3. Other Phrases

Say Sorry

There are other phrases related to apology in Cantonese too. The phrases we’re introducing below, as well as the ones above, can sometimes be used together at the same time, depending on the situation. For example, if you want to admit that you’re the one at fault, apologize, and then beg for forgiveness, you could say: 係我唔啱,對唔住,求下你唔好嬲我 (hai6 ngo5 m4 aam1, deoi3 m4 zyu6, kau4 haa5 nei5 m4 hou2 nau1 ngo5).

1- 係我唔啱

  • Romanization: hai6 ngo5 m4 aam1.
  • Meaning: It is my fault.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 我唔應該對你發火,係我唔啱。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 jing1 goi1 deoi3 nei5 faat3 fo2, hai6 ngo5 m4 aam1.
  • Meaning: I should not be mad at you, it is my fault.

2- 我唔會再咁做

  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 wui5 zoi3 gam2 zou6.
  • Meaning: I won’t do it again.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 如果你唔鍾意嘅話,我唔會再咁做。
  • Romanization: jyu4 gwo2 nei5 m4 zung1 ji3 ge3 waa2, ngo5 m4 wui2 zoi3 gam2 zou6.
  • Meaning: If you don’t like this, I won’t do it again.

3- 我要為對你咁衰而道歉

  • Romanization: ngo5 jiu3 wai6 deoi3 nei5 gam3 seoi1 ji4 dou6 hip3.
  • Meaning: I apologize for being mean to you.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 我唔應該笑你,我要為對你咁衰而道歉。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 jing1 goi1 siu3 nei5, ngo5 jiu3 wai6 deoi3 nei5 gam3 seoi1 ji4 dou6 hip3.
  • Meaning: I should not have laughed at you, I apologize for being mean to you.

4- 我希望你可以原諒我

  • Romanization: ngo5 hei1 mong6 nei5 ho2 ji3 jyun4 loeng6 ngo5.
  • Meaning: I hope you will forgive me.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 係我唔啱,我希望你可以原諒我。
  • Romanization: hai6 ngo5 m4 aam1, ngo5 hei1 mong6 nei5 ho2 ji3 jyun4 loeng6 ngo5.
  • Meaning: It is my fault and I hope you will forgive me.

5- 我一早就唔應該咁做

  • Romanization: ngo5 jat1 zou2 zau6 m4 jing1 goi1 gam2 zou6.
  • Meaning: I should not have done it.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 我知道你覺得難受,我一早就唔應該咁做。
  • Romanization: ngo5 zi1 dou3 nei5 gok3 dak1 naan4 sau6, ngo5 jat1 zou2 zau6 m4 jing3 goi1 gam2 zou6.
  • Meaning: I know it hurts you badly, I should not have done it.

6- 我無咁嘅意思

  • Romanization: ngo5 mou4 gam2 ge3 ji3 si1.
  • Meaning: I did not mean that.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 可能中間有啲誤會,我無咁嘅意思。
  • Romanization: ho2 nang4 zung1 gaan1 jau5 di1 ng6 wui6, ngo5 mou4 gam2 ge3 ji3 si1.
  • Meaning: I did not mean that, I guess there could be some misunderstanding.

7- 我保證唔會再犯呢個錯

  • Romanization: ngo5 bou2 zing3 m4 wui5 zoi3 faan6 ni1 go3 co3.
  • Meaning: I will make sure I do not make the same mistake again.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 我唔應該咁做,我保證唔會再犯呢個錯。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 jing3 goi1 gam2 zou6, ngo5 bou2 zing3 m4 wui5 zoi3 faan6 ni1 go3 co3.
  • Meaning: I should not have done this and I promise I will not make the same mistake again.

8- 求下你唔好嬲我

  • Romanization: kau4 haa5 nei5 m4 hou2 nau1 ngo5.
  • Meaning: Please do not be mad at me.

Example:

  • Cantonese character: 我唔會再咁做,求下你唔好嬲我。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 wui5 zoi3 gam2 zou6, kau4 haa5 nei5 m4 hou2 nau1 ngo5.
  • Meaning: I won’t do it again. Please don’t be mad at me.


4. How to Answer to Sorry

Man Asking for Forgiveness

If someone apologizes to you, you can reply with the below phrases:

  • 唔緊要 (m4 gan2 jiu3) - no worries / never mind
  • 無問題 (mou5 man6 tai4) - no problem
  • 無所謂 (mou5 so2 wai6) - doesn’t matter

唔緊要 (m4 gan2 jiu3) is the standard way to reply to an apology, but you can use the other two phrases as well depending on the scenarios.


5. Manner & Gesture when You Say Sorry

Woman Apologizing

In general, you should be polite and sincere when you apologize. Keep your tone flat and slightly tilt your head down. You can either look into the eyes of the person you’re saying sorry to or look down. We don’t have any common gesture that signifies “sorry.” We just say the words without any hand gesture or further body posture, such as bowing, as is common in some other cultures.


6. Written Form of “I am Sorry”

As you may know, there are two forms of Cantonese, one in spoken form and the other in written form. We speak slightly differently than we write. The above phrases are all in spoken form. So what about the written form of “I am sorry” in Cantonese?

  • Chinese character: 對不起
  • Romanization: deoi3 bat1 hei2
  • Meaning: Sorry

對不起 (deoi3 bat1 hei2) is the written form of 對唔住 (deoi3 m4 zyu6) and they have literally the same meaning. Although more and more Hong Kongeses write in the spoken form of Cantonese, it’s still impermissible to write spoken Cantonese in schools and formal writings. Also, we never speak written Cantonese in our daily lives.


7. Bonus: Hot Topic of the City

Have you ever pissed off your significant other? How would you apologize? How far would you go to ask for his or her forgiveness? Check out the video below to see how a man begged for his girlfriend’s forgiveness in Hong Kong:

If you’re not up for the extreme measures of saying sorry, like many of us do, read Common Ways to Say Sorry in Cantonese to learn more alternative ways to apologize.


8. Conclusion: How CantoneseClass101 can Help You Learn More Cantonese

If you’re eager to know more common Cantonese phrases and words on top of saying sorry, please do visit CantoneseClass101.com, where you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through either your mobile apps, desktop software, or even our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

We’ve delivered until now more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, abundance of vocabulary learning tools and spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

In the meantime, continue practicing how to say “I apologize” in Cantonese, along with all the other phrases we went over. You’ll be glad you did next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation in Hong Kong. Best of luck to you!

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