How can I say “Sumimasen” in Japanese ?

Japanese people say “Sumimasen” very often in many situations. Normally you can translate it into “I’m sorry.” in Japanese, but it has different meanings depending on situations. I will introduce when you can say it and what meaning it has then.

1. When you apologize to someone

Foreign people who learn Japanese know you can say it when you apologize to someone. You can say it to someone whom you don’t know, elderly people or your bosses in both the workplace and private when you apologize to them politely. I say and hear it really often in such a situation in Japan. I will introduce an example.

Ex.) In a train
A : Please don’t sit down on the floor in the train./「電車でんしゃなかゆかすわらないでください。」
B: I’m sorry./「すみません。」

2. When you talk to someone

You can also use it when you talk to someone whom you don’t know, elderly people or your bosses in both the workplace and private. This is a polite expression, so you don’t give people an impolite impression even if you say it to them. I say and hear it such a situation in Japan. I will introduce an example.

Ex.)
A : Excuse me. Could you tell me the way to Tokyo station ?/「すみません。東京駅とうきょうえきへのかたおしえていただけませんか?」
B : Yes, please go straight along this street and turn right at the first corner./「はい、このみちをまっすぐって最初さいしょかどみぎがってください。」

3. When you appreciate someone

Japanese say it also when they appreciate someone although you can’t believe that. We often say “Sumimasen Arigatogozaimasu”/「すみません、ありがとうございます。」 in this case. You can tell people your appreciation very politely and they don’t feel it impolite. You can often say them to someone whom you don’t know very well, elderly people or your bosses. If you say it in this situation Japanese people in Japan, they would be surprised and glad. I often say and hear them in such a situation in Japan and I will introduce an example.

Ex.)
A : How long can I go to Sensoji ?/「浅草寺せんそうじくのにどのくらいかかりますか?」
B : It takes a few minutes from Asakusa subway station on your foot./「地下鉄ちかてつ浅草駅あさくさえきから徒歩とほで2-3ふんかかります。」
A : Thank you !/「すみません、ありがとうございます。」

4. When you request to someone

You can say it also when you request something to someone whom you don’t know, elderly people or your bosses. This is also a very polite expression and you can give people a polite impression if you say it in such a situation. I also use and hear it in such a situation in Japan. I will introduce an example.

Ex.) At a restaurant
A : Could you take the dishes ?/「すみません、さらをさげていただけませんか?」
B : Yes, sure./「はい、かしこまりました。」

Summary

You can say “Sumimasen” when you apologize, talk to someone, appreciate or request. These are natural and polite expressions.

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