The difference between Excuse me and I'm sorry

Most non-native speakers of English, when entering their English Class late, automatically say Excuse me when in fact they should say Sorry.

And many visitors to the United Kingdom (UK) say the British are hypocritical because they seem to say sorry on almost every occasion, even if they don't mean it!

But first let us examine the phrase excuse me.

  • We use excuse me not to apologise but to ask permission to do something - for example, when arriving late for the theatre and asking permission to move along the row of seats to our own seat. In this particular situation we might also say sorry as we pass along the row causing people to have to stand up or move their legs.

So you might hear someone saying Excuse me, please asking permission to pass, and the Sorry! after the other person has had to move!

You might also say Excuse me! when trying to pass passengers who are blocking the aisle in a bus, train or plane. Strangely enough, if you are forced to say excuse me in this situation, it usually means that you are implying that the person blocking the aisle should have moved out of the way before you said it - because in Britain, unlike in most countries - and I am quite sure there will be many people in other countries who will disagree! - people on the move tend to anticipate what the people around them intend to do, so that they can take suitable action.

  • In fact, while people in most countries are usually polite to people they do know, and are not so polite to those they do not know, in Britain it's the opposite: we treat strangers with politeness, yet acquaintances and friends with the very minimum of courtesy!

It takes all kinds to make a world . . . sorry, I have to go now before you give me a bunch of fives - bye!

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