I'm Sorry vs. I Apologize

Most people don't realize that there's a subtle difference between saying "I'm sorry." and "I apologize." An apology is a formal admission of doing something that shouldn't have been done. It may or may not be heartfelt i.e. a person may apologize without truly feeling remorse.

On the other hand, saying "I am sorry." is a truer admission of regret. It is what we may call a heartfelt apology. If someone says they are sorry but do not truly feel remorse, then they are said to be lying. However, if someone apologizes but are not truly ruing their actions, they are not lying.

"I'm sorry"' is also used to express sympathy. For example, I'm sorry for your loss. 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.

edit Examples of the difference between saying "I apologize" and "I'm sorry"

edit Quotes about apologies

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Comments: I Am Sorry vs I Apologize

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Anonymous comments (6)

October 18, 2013, 6:11am

I must say that I disagree with the blanket assumption that "I'm sorry" is sincere, and "I apologize" is less so. While I agree that the MOST sincere version is to both apologize and say that one feels sorry, this is not an area where it is black or white as this article suggests.

In my experience, people have come to start saying "I'm sorry" for anything and don't even think about what it means to say that you feel bad that something is happening.

In what I do, I've found that it can be a lot easier to get someone that they feel bad about what has happened, (sympathy or empathy to a degree) but strongly reject the idea that they ever did anything requiring an admission of guilt.

For that reason, I feel that a clear, heartfelt admission of wrongdoing is more sincere than some vague blanket "I'm Sorry." Case in point, less than helpful call-center employees will give out I'm-sorry-s like they're chicklets, but they will only very rarely admit they're wrong.

— 71.✗.✗.84
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February 24, 2013, 8:32am

In the southern United States, custom encourages a wider usage of "I'm sorry" than this page reflects, not only to express sympathy, as another commenter has already noted, but even as a surrogate for, "please excuse me."

— 67.✗.✗.41
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November 16, 2012, 9:53pm

From what I can tell the difference between "I am sorry" and "I apologize" has to do with who is doing the action. You can apologize to someone for something you in fact did. "I apologize for backing into your car"; "I apologize for breaking the window"; "I apologize for hurting your feelings."

"I'm sorry" on the other hand is used when you feel bad about something that you yourself had no direct bearing upon. "I'm sorry your dog passed away"; "I'm sorry for that you car was hit"; etc. These are things that have nothing to do with you. You can feel bad about them and wish that the outcome was different, but these are things that are out of your control.

You're sorry about things happening around the world, in other people's lives, etc. You apologize for things that you yourself did or at least had something to do with the ultimate outcome. You can't apologize to someone because their grandmother passed away. You can be sorry about it, sympathetic, perhaps even empathetic if you yourself have lost a grandmother, but you can't apologize.

— 71.✗.✗.163
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November 12, 2012, 9:46pm

I like the quote about the stiff apology, it really does make things worse. I think an honest apology can give both parties a fresh start but being sorry is just one element. I believe a genuine apology consists of four things: 1. Acknowledging responsibility. ("I realize that I caused or created this" rather than simply being sorry for the effect "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "I'm sorry you got hurt") 2. Acknowledging the effect it had on the other person (not minimizing it). 3. Expressing regret. ("I wish I'd done this differently") and finally, 4. Resolving to do better. ("I'll make sure that never happens again" or "I'll try and be more careful next time"). When those four things are communicated, an apology can be powerful and healing. Without them there may be a sense that whatever happened is likely to happen again and trust may be diminished. It's so much easier to forgive when we feel understood.

— 75.✗.✗.215
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January 2, 2012, 5:01am

Asking for forgiveness adds weight to any apology or expression of sorrow for one's actions. It is a very humble act.

— 65.✗.✗.126
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July 30, 2013, 1:43pm

There is a very thin line of difference between saying I'm sorry and I apologize...Agreed!
But how can you guess that a person's apology or sorry for that matter is from the heart or not from? It's just about how you look at it. It's not the words that matter, but how it is said, that matters.

— 125.✗.✗.2
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