Sometimes saying you’re sorry is a quick thing, because you did something like bumping into someone by accident. In Italian, depending on how you say it, you might have to make a quick decision: How well do I know this person, and how formal should I be?
The familiar form is scusami (excuse me), or simply scusa. Grammatically speaking, we’re using the imperative form of scusare (to excuse). If you look at the conjugation of scusare, you’ll see that it’s conjugated like other verbs ending in -are (soon to be explained by Daniela in her popular grammar lesson series!). You’ll also see that it’s easy to get things mixed up.
Learning conjugations can be daunting, but it’s worth learning the imperatives of scusare, since it’s a verb you’ll need in many situations. While you’re at it, you might do the same with perdonare (to pardon, to forgive), which conjugates the same way, and can have a similar meaning, as in the following situation where Marika is pretending to be distracted.
Perdonami, scusami tanto, ma ero sovrappensiero.
Forgive me, really sorry, but I was lost in thought.
Caption 25, Marika e Daniela - Il verbo chiederePlay Caption
It can be helpful to remember that in the familiar form, the mi (me) gets tacked onto the end of the verb: scusami, perdonami (and in the familiar second person plural: scusatemi, perdonatemi). But when using the polite form you need to put the mi first, making two words: mi scusi, mi perdoni.
Signora mi scusi, Lei è parente della vittima?
Madam, excuse me, are you a relative of the victim?Play Caption
Attenzione! If you ask a friend to forgive you, the question is: mi perdoni? If instead you’re saying “pardon me” to a stranger, it’s mi perdoni (and is not a question, but a command). It all has to do with inflection and context.
Sono in ritardo, mi perdoni?
I’m late. Will you forgive me?
Mi perdoni, non ho sentito il Suo nome.
Pardon me, I didn’t hear your name.
In many cases, you can use the generic chiedo scusa (I ask for pardon, I ask forgiveness). This way, no worries about complicated conjugations!
On Italian TV interviews are conducted using the polite form of address, but in this case the intervistatore (interviewer) knows the intervistato (interviewee) Tiziano Terzani very well, and would like to make an exception.
Chiedo scusa ai telespettatori se userò il "tu" con lui.
I'll ask the television audience for forgiveness if I use the "tu" form with him.
Captions 24-25, Tiziano Terzani - CartabiancaPlay Caption
Another way to say you’re sorry is mi dispiace (I’m sorry), often shortened to mi spiace (I’m sorry), which is a bit weightier than “excuse me” and doesn’t necessarily involve the other person pardoning you.
Mi spiace, ma qualcuno doveva pur dirvelo. Questa è la realtà.
I'm sorry, but someone had to say it to you. This is the reality.
Captions 74-75, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio - A corto di ideePlay Caption
Mi dispiace is used even when it’s not at all a question of asking pardon, such as when we hear about a disgrazia (adversity, terrible loss). In the following example, the father is using lasciare (to leave) to mean his daughter has died. Notice the plural ending of the participle (normally lasciato) that agrees with ci (us).
Angela ci ha lasciati. -Mi dispiace.
Angela's left us. -I'm sorry.
Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in BluPlay Caption
There’s much more to say about being sorry, and about using the verb dispiacere. Ci dispiace (we’re sorry), but it will have to wait for another lesson. A presto!