excuse me vs. sorry

excuse me vs. sorry

Very often while waiting for something in a crowd of people, I hear non-native speakers (predominantly from countries such as Italy or Spain) trying to make their way through by repeatedly saying “Sorry!”. The problem is, practically none of the native speakers, and very few of the non-native speakers pay attention. The reason is not that they don’t care, but that the correct phrase is “Excuse me!”. You typically say “Sorry” when you apologize for something (for example, you stepped on someone’s foot), but you should use “Excuse me” if you want to get people’s attention in order to be able to get through the crowd. Note though that native speakers will use “Sorry” while moving through the crowd to apologize for the trouble they are causing. The origin of this false friend is of course that in many other languages, both phrases translate into the same word or expression (cf. the German Verzeihung).

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Martin

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