Why do Japanese say sorry a lot when speaking English?

I’m aware one of the mistakes we tend to fall into when speaking English is saying sorry a lot or over-apologizing, as I did in the past.

Why do Japanese people apologize so much in English?

Why do Japanese people say sorry a lot when speaking English?

When speaking English, Japanese people (non-native English speakers) are prone to say “I’m sorry” even when they don’t need to,

not because of low self-esteem or fear but because of the mistranslation of Sumimasen/すみません.

For those unfamiliar with the Japanese language, there are three ways of using the phrase すみません;

  1. to apologize or to say I’m sorry
  2. to express gratitude or to say Thank you
  3. for Excuse me

And the problem mainly stems from the no.2 usage.

As I wrote in this article, today, many Japanese people tend to use Sumimasen instead of Arigato Gozaimasu when they want to express their gratitude,

even though Sumimasen/すみません is usually used for an apology, plus some experts don’t recommend that usage.

And when those people have opportunities to speak English, they unconsciously say “sorry” even when they don’t have to, mistranslating the meaning of すみません.

(Reference Page: Eigo Plus )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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