The different ways to say "I'm sorry" in Portuguese

I’m confused about the different ways you can say “I’m sorry” in Portuguese.

Some basic ways I know:

  • desculpa
  • desculpe
  • lamento
  • sinto muito

I have a few questions:

  • What are the differences between those phrases/words?
  • What kind of situations would you use them in?
  • Are there any others you can use that would be more common?
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Desculpa and desculpe mean “I’m sorry” in the sense of “I apologize”. The former is casual, while the latter is formal. Otherwise, they’re the same. You can use them when you bump into people, when you do anything wrong… Any situation where you feel like you might be at fault.

Lamento and Sinto muito mean “I’m sorry” in the sense of “I’m sorry to hear that”. You’d use it to console someone who just got some bad news, for example. If the news involve someone passing away, you could also say/add Os meus pêsames or As minhas condolências (both mean “My condolences”).

These are all used a lot in their respective contexts, but to apologize, you do have an extra option: Perdão. Interestingly enough, when people cough or burp (ha!), this is what they’ll say the most. Otherwise, it’s not the most common way of apologizing.

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So is there no context in which I would say lamento and where I was the cause of the thing for which I am sorry? I must have been using this very incorrectly and confusing people because of it.

And does desculpe also mean “excuse me”? Like, “pardon me, do you know the time”? (Desculpe, sabe que horas são?)

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No, we don’t really use lamento like that, I’d say. Sounds a bit odd. But hey, you could be responsible for, say, making a person lose something of value to them. You could then both apologize for your error (Desculpa) and express how bad you feel for that person’s loss (Lamento). I would still use both words. Even in a context such as that one, lamento by itself doesn’t feel like a proper apology.

Yes! It can be used just like “Excuse me”. When you want to say/ask something, when you want people to let you through, when you want them to repeat something… Or even when you’re shocked or offended by something they said and start breathing fire (Excuse me, what?! :rage: ).

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What about “com licenca”. I thought that means excuse me?

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I think you say com licença when you mean “excuse me, coming through”, or if you’re about to reach past someone for something (like to grab something across the dinner table). It helps to think about it literally as “with license” or less literally as “with permission”.

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That sounds right. @Joseph can confirm, but I’ve been told that com licença is to excuse yourself or ask for forgiveness before you do something like reaching across the table, closing the door, hanging up the phone (weird, right?) etc.

On the other hand, desculpe (formal) / desculpa (inf) are for apologizing after you’ve screwed up, since you’re asking them to remove culpability from you.

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Okay, this is plainly weird. :joy:

The distinction between before and after is useful and I’m not sure I’ve heard it before (or I can’t remember).

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Yes, that’s about it!

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Where does “com licença” fit in here?

Com licença (excuse me) is only used, for example, when you’re reaching past someone to get something or when you’re walking and want people to make room for you to pass. Joel and Josh summarized it quite well in their posts a bit further up in this thread :slight_smile:

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