2014/09/01

"I am sorry" vs "I love you"

The other day I was explaining when to use “I’m sorry” to young English-learners and thought it may be interesting to share some around this phrase…


“I’m sorry” is one of the phrases that we Japanese need to be careful when speaking English. Because “I’m sorry” in Japanese (Gomennasai/Sumimasen) is often used in the sense of “Thank you” in polite form. And quite often I see some Japanese people saying “Sorry” when Gaijin-san holds the door for them. Yes, that’s the literal translation but we should not say this when cashier staffs give us change or someone gave us gifts…

For example… when we receive gifts from the guest who visited us, we tend to say in Japanese “You brought us so many gifts… I’m sorry”.

But this is literal translation, so the real meaning of this sentence would be:
“You brought us so many gifts… (I’m sure it must have been troublesome for you to do this and) I’m sorry (for making you spend much time and money for us. But we appreciate your kindness)”

We can instantly guess these words in parenthesis and that’s why this “I’m sorry” makes sense. We show the appreciation by acknowledging the effort the guest made for us. Somehow apologetic, but this is our way to show the politeness, a part of our culture.

However this sounds weird to non-Japanese and if we say its full sentence it would be creepier… Therefore, this should just be translated as “Thank you for giving us many gifts” and it can give same degree of gratitude in English.

It may be small thing, but it could lead to big misunderstanding or problems… so I think it’s important for us to know when to say “Sorry” and “Thank you” when we learn them.


…Anyway I think “I’m sorry” in English is heavy words. At least heavier than Japanese “I’m sorry”. Of course we use this as they really meant it and as same heaviness, but because we often use this in a casual way, we may have less hesitation to say… I’m guessing…

I hear quite a lot of “I’m sorry to hear that you are sad” type of “I’m sorry” but I rarely hear “it was my mistake and I am sorry” type of “I’m sorry” in English. Even when it seems like necessary. Sometimes I get the impression that people are looking for other words in order to avoid “I’m sorry” and then… I sense the heaviness of these words.

And I think something contrary to this is the phrase “I love you”. In most cases, “I love you” in English means “I like you a lot” in Japanese (daisuki) and should not translated literally as in “until the death (or someone new) tear us apart” type of “I love you”. Otherwise you have no idea how many times you need to make a vow... “I love you” in Japanese is something very heavy, and we don’t even use this phrase between family members. But in English, some people say “I love you” just because someone give a bottle of coke… so this means “Thank you”…? Hmm… interesting…

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