Japanese for I'm sorry.

Something I spent a lot of time saying in my Japanese class, usually after showing up late or not turning in homework.

Note: As with everything else in Japanese, there are probably some subtleties and connotations to the word that I'm missing, but given that I am a large, clueless American, I hope the native speakers of Japanese out there will forgive me.

Japanese expression carrying the following English meanings: "excuse me", "pardon me", "I'm sorry", "thank you". Sumimasen is most often used as "pardon me", but it carries an apologetic/humble note. In combination with the hesitation noise "anoo...", it is the best way for foreigners to get the attention of Japanese strangers, teachers, doctors, hosts, etc etc. Don't use it for shopping/clerk scenarios, as the clerks themselves are supposed to take the humble attitude and the customer is given the utmost in courtesy -- he has no need of apologizing.

Omatase shite, hontoo ni sumimasen deshita.
I'm really very sorry for making you wait.

Anoo...sumimasen. Byooin wa doko desu ka.
Err, excuse me. Where is the hospital?

Compare with gomen nasai, a more formal apology for having done something wrong, and shitsuree shimasu, a more formal way of excusing oneself in the presence of superiors.

Written (sumimasen), no kanji.

The reason why the word "sumimasen" doesn't correspond exactly to English phrases like "excuse me", "sorry", "thanks", etc, is because of its literal meaning (duh).

One of the things that I don't like about teaching people set phrases in Japanese, is that they often don't mean exactly what we're told they mean. Arigatou gozaimasu is an example of this.

The word sumimasen comes from the verb sumu, to be ended, finished. Its use is based on the idea of reciprocation, that every act of magnamity should be rewarded with an action on your part. Thus the speaker who says sumimasen means that since you have done me this kindness, this matter is not finished between us.

So when you mean "sorry, I came late to class, forgive me", you say sumimasen, and when you mean "thank you for lending me your umbrella" you also say sumimasen. The net effect is to confuse foreigners.

And YES. Since sumimasen comes from the verb sumu, which can be written in kanji, sumimasen can, and regularly is, written in kanji: (in EUC)



The literal meaning of "sumimasen" in this particular context is "it is not resolved/it is not over", in the sense that whatever transgression has warranted a sumimasen is so terrible that it simply isn't resolved by a mere apology. This is similar to the other popular Japanese apology moushiwake arimasen/gozaimasen, which literally means "there is no excuse," and implies that one is throwing oneself on the mercy of the person to whom the apology is being directed.

The importance of knowing the literal meaning of sumimasen can be seen from the following common expressions:
A: ¤ªÂÔ¤¿¤»¤·¤ÆºÑ¤ß¤Þ¤»¤ó¡ª
A: O-matase-shite sumimasen!
Hon-wait(causative)-(progressive) resolve-negative
B: Sumimasen tte, sumimasen de sumu mon ka!

Resolve-negative (quote), resolve negative-with resolve (negative emphatic)
Here, A said "I'm sorry for keeping you waiting," to which B replied "Sorry? Sorry isn't gonna cut it!" Sumu is the plain infinitive form of "sumimasen."

Another common expression involving the same verb is:
Tada ja sumanai zo!

This literally means "(it) won't be resolved (sumu) simply!" The actual meaning is more of a threat. It could be translated as "this isn't over yet" or "you won't get off easy for this," or even "I'll make you pay for this," depending on the context.

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