How to say I’m sorry in Korean

Now that you’ve learned how to thank someone in Korean, it’s time to learn how to say sorry in Korean too. We’d love to say that there is a one-phrase-fits-all that you can use to apologise, but just like with everything we’ve taught you so far, there are many different expressions you can use to ask forgiveness.


I’m sorry

The most formal and sincere way to say sorry in Korean is with the phrase 죄송합니다. 죄송 means “apology,” and can you remember what 합니다 translates as? Right, it’s “to do,” so therefore you are literally giving an apology.

죄송합니다 is the perfect thing to say when you want to apologise for your actions. Bowing your head slightly whilst saying the phrase will truly emphasis how sorry you really are.

죄송합니다I'm sorry
합니다To do

You may have also heard that you can use the phrase 미안합니다 to say sorry too. This is true and it is generally used when apologising for something that is not so serious, as it is a little less formal than 죄송합니다, but still polite.

미안 comes from the Chinese word 未安 which means “shame”. So together with 합니다 it literally means you are shamed with yourself.

미안합니다I'm sorry
합니다To do

Although in English we can apologise to someone when hearing bad news from them, such as “I’m sorry to hear your grandfather died,” we do not do so in Korean and it will sound awkward and confusing if you use this as a reply to hearing something sad. So, be sure to only use 죄송합니다 or 미안합니다 when you are apologising for something that is your fault, such as missing an appointment, knocking someone over or spilling soup on their lap!

There is an informal conjugation of 미안합니다 that you can use when talking to a partner, a close friend or family member or someone much younger than you, but it should never be used towards someone that you aren’t close to. Note that there is no casual version of 죄송합니다.

미안해I'm sorry

It’s okay

Now that can apologise in Korean it’s turn to learn how to reply too. If you say sorry in Korean, you will most likely hear 괜찮아요 back, which is one of the most commonly used phrases on a daily basis, due to its many uses.

괜찮아요 literally means ‘it’s okay’, or ‘it’s alright’ and can pretty much be used in situations where would use the English equivalent.

The standard form 괜찮아요 is most commonly used, but 괜찮아 is often heard between close friends, close family and young children. Although 괜찮습니다 isn’t heard much in everyday conversation, it is often used in the media, presentations and super formal situations.


Let’s look how we can use “it’s okay” in Korean:

1. As a response when someone apologises to you

2. As a response when someone thanks you.

3. As a response when someone excuses themselves.
4. If someone asks you if you are okay, if you have been crying, if you fall etc.
5. If you want someone not to worry.

6. If someone offers you something and you wish to decline it the offer.

7. As a question to ask if your idea is okay with someone.

8. If someone asks your opinion about something and you want to say that is “not too bad.”

October 18, 2016

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