The Key to Saying I’m Sorry in Portuguese like You Mean It
You bump against someone on the street. Your first instinct — if you’re not having a bad day — is to say I’m sorry. In Portuguese, that’s easy enough.
And that would work.
But — God forbid — a friend’s relative dies. How would you go about expressing that?
You want your emotion to go through. After all, it’s not only words. It’s emotion.
And it’s that emotion — such an elusive concept — that is lacking in most of our attempts at saying sorry in any foreign language, be it Portuguese or Mandarin.
And in this article, you’re going to see how you can express both apologies and sorrows.
My Bad — Informal Ways to Say You’re Sorry
In Brazil, you don’t really go to Starbucks. Unless you are in São Paulo, but let’s say you’re not there.
Then you topple someone’s cup of coffee.
Your first instinct is to say “I’m sorry”. But if it’s your friend’s, you might be more informal and say, “my bad.”
Here’s how you would say that in Portuguese:
- Foi mal. My bad.
- Foi mal, pensava que você… My bad, I just thought you…
It’s really informal. You wouldn’t use that if you’d hit someone with a car. It would be too serious for that. But a couple of coffee toppled over? For sure.
- [Me] Desculpe / Desculpa. I’m sorry.
This is simply “exculpate me” or take the guilt off of me.
It’s quite common. It’s what this child says to his mom for having charged her credit card a great sum of money (@ 1:03, but the whole thing is so funny).
And you notice that the ending changes.
“Desculpa” sounds more informal. It’s the ending we use for “tu”. (If curious about it, you can find out more in here.)
And you can use the other one, “desculpa”, in any situation.
When You’re Not to Blame
I don’t remember who said it, but the guilt is mine and I pin it on anyone I want.
It is very true, especially in Brazil.
And I think that it’s actually an international trait. But I can tell you that at least in Brazil most people don’t want to take responsibility for bad things they might do.
And that’s coming from a Brazilian. But let’s not dwell on it.
Some expressions to use when you are not to blame are:
- Foi sem querer. I did it by accident. Literally: it was without wanting.
- Não foi culpa minha. It wasn’t my fault.
Apologies in Portuguese — Being Magnificent about It
The more words we use, the more we mean it.
That might not be necessarily true, but it seems that the number of words does influence our perception of an apology.
The versions below sound solemn. You can use them when something happens and you want to apologize.
- Sinto muito. I’m sorry.
- Sinto muitíssimo. I’m so sorry.
- Sinto muitíssimo mesmo. I’m so, so sorry.
- Peço desculpas pelo que fiz, foi estúpido. I apologize for what I did, it was a stupid.
- Perdão pelo ocorrido. Forgive me for what happened.
And incidentally, the first and second expressions are used when you want to show compassion and sympathy for someone in pain.
And Showing You Already Left It behind
And if you are magnanimous about someone’s apology, you can go beyond a simple “tudo bem” and say:
- Já relevei. I already forgave it.
- Deixe/deixa para lá. Forget about it.
- Também passei da conta. Foi mal. I also exaggerated. Sorry.
If you’ve read up to this point, you’re probably taking your first steps in learning Portuguese.
There is nothing to be sorry about.
The next logical step would be learning how to greet the way we do it in Brazil.
And if you already know that, thanking people would also be a good one.
And of course, if your intention is just to pick up some words and phrases in your next trip to Brazil, we’ve got you covered.
And if you need individual attention to speed up your learning process, you might be entitled to a fifteen-minute consultation with no obligation whatsoever.