You’ve Been Apologizing the Wrong Way Your Whole Life

I'm Sorry You Feel That Way

Have you ever told someone, by way of apology, “I’m sorry if you feel that way”?

If so, please know that this is not an apology. In fact, this all-too-common phrase is one of the most specious in the English language. It’s a head nod toward contrition, but it’s utterly devoid of sincerity.

There are at least three major problems with these seven little words.

1. Consider the word “if.” If I feel I was wronged? Whatever incident gave rise to your alleged apology isn’t hypothetical. Don’t swaddle yourself in noncommittal language; either you did something wrong or you didn’t. If you did, drop the “if.”

2. Even if you drop the “if” (“I’m sorry you feel that way”), you’re still apologizing for the way someone else feels, rather than for the way you made them feel. This is as devious as language gets. Adults take responsibility for their actions; they don’t concoct decoys. If you’re an adult, change “if you feel that way” to “I made you feel.”

3. Instead of simply saying “I’m sorry,” consider elaborating. A mere adjective will suffice (“I’m so sorry”; “I’m sincerely sorry”), as will a semicolon (“I’m sorry; I was out of line”).

Similarly, consider identifying what it is you’re apologizing for. You can still be vague (“I’m sorry I was a jerk”), but the more specific you are, the more genuine you’ll appear.

Of course, if your goal is to float a nonapology apology, then by all means, ignore all of the above and keep up the good work!

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