6 Uses of the Magical Words Sumimasen and Gomenasai

6 Uses of the Magical Words Sumimasen and Gomenasai

There are a few expressions to show apologies or to ask for forgiveness in Japanese. The most used among them are “Sumimasen” and “Gomennasai.” They are one of the first expressions that you will learn when you are learning a language, but especially in Japanese because our culture is based on humbleness. So what are the differences of the two? Which one is more appropriate for certain situations? Here is a little tip to use the expressions appropriately.



 

6 Uses of the Magical Words Sumimasen and Gomenasai

 

1. To stop someone to ask a question– Sumimasen

You made it to Japan and are ready to enjoy your travel. But you have no idea where you are. You want to ask a local for a direction. The first word to stop a person is definitely “Sumimasen.” This can also be used when you want to stop a waiter or a waitress to order something. With this expression, you don’t have to worry when you get lost, ordering sushi or trying on the outfit you find in Shibuya!

 

2. To show apologies to friends and families – Gomennasai

If you grew up in Japan, you would have used “Gomennasai” quite a few times to your parents, as this is the expression to show your apologies for something you have done. This is used more between close relationships such as family for friends. The shorter version is “Gomen” and is also lighter in meaning. If you want to send a text to a friend for being late, start your message with “Gomen!” and your apologies will be easily accepted.

 

3. A little bit formal use – Sumimasen

So, between family and friends, it is “Gomennasai.” But usually, this is not used for formal occasion including business scenes. “Sumimasen” is more appropriate. If you want to be really formal in a business scene, you can also use another expression “Moshiwake arimasen.” This is considered the most formal expression and also shows a sincere apology.

 

4. A slight apology to someone you know a little – Gomennasai

When you are expressing a slight apology to someone you know but not as close as a friend, you can use “Gomennnasai.” This refers to scenes such as when you bumped into someone at a party, or you spilled a little bit of beer on the table. Often in these cases, you would know the person but not so closely. Since “Gomen” is a casual expression, it is better to use a politer expression, “Gomennasai.”

 

5. A substitution for thank you – Sumimasen

Japanese culture requires one to be humble. Thus instead of saying “thank you” to show appreciation, many Japanese use “Sumimasen.” If we use “Arigato gozaimasu,” we feel a bit arrogant, as we are looking someone from above. Many Japanese feel more comfortable to use “Sumimasen” because it positions one to be lower than the other.

 

6. To show your humbleness – Sumimasen

At the end of a business letter of an email, you conclude by saying “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” You can also add “Sumimasen ga” in front of this sentence. Many Japanese use this additional phrase to show humbleness as I explained previously. I guess this is another substitution of appreciation, as many English letters close by saying “thank you.”

 

Conclusion

When Japanese learn English at school, we are taught that “Excuse me” is equivalent to “Sumimasen” and “I’m sorry” to “Gomennasai.” In many cases this actually works. But you will sound more local and professional in business scenes when you know how to differentiate between the expressions. Try out the different expressions in different scenes, or listen to how Japanese people are using the expressions. It is the best way to know the “live” language!

 

6 Uses of the Magical Words Sumimasen and Gomenasai

1. To stop someone to ask a question– Sumimasen
2. To show apologies to friends and families – Gomennasai
3. A little bit formal use – Sumimasen
4. A slight apology to someone you know a little – Gomennasai
5. A substitution for thank you – Sumimasen
6. To show your humbleness – Sumimasen