There is a subtle difference between saying "I'm sorry" and "I apologize". An apology is a formal admission of a wrongdoing. It may or may not be heartfelt — i.e., a person may apologize without feeling remorseful. On the other hand, saying "I am sorry" is usually seen as being a truer admission of regret. It is what is called a "heartfelt apology." If someone says he is sorry but does not feel any remorse, then he is said to be lying.

"I'm sorry" is also used to express sympathy. For example, "I'm sorry for your loss" can communicate sympathy following the death of a loved one. There is no such usage for "I apologize." An apology is only for wrongdoing.

Comparison chart

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I Am Sorry

I Apologize

Who's to blame? Not necessarily me Me
What do I feel that makes me say this? Sorrow Regret and/or responsibility
Can it be sarcastic? Yes Yes
Level where this feeling occurs Emotional and Empathetic Intellectual and Emotionally
Relative formality Informal Formal
Likely inferred sincerity Probably insincere Probably sincere
Would you say this when someone has experienced a personal tragedy that you did not cause? (E.g., a death in the family) Yes No
what do you want to say? I am sorry (for something happened that doesn't necessarily have to be related to me) I feel sorry for inconvenience, big troubles, etc.

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