AEE 1151: Should You Use the Phrase I Beg Your Pardon?

Have you ever heard somebody say “I beg your pardon”?

Does this seem like an unusual phrase to use and is it a bit confusing?

Do you wan to find appropriate ways to apologize in English?

We’re going to break down this phrase, how and when you might use it, and then give you some great alternatives as well.

We have a listener question about this interesting and unique phrase.

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Hi Lindsay and Michelle,

I want to tell you that I just love your podcast. I listen to you while working out and so many other times. I always listen to you before an interview or call in English, and this helps me to be more confident.

I have a question for you. I ran into an expression I’d never heard before: “I beg your pardon”. I want to know if it’s something commonly used. If it is, I’d like to know if it is a formal or an informal one.

I’d thank you so much if you can tell other ways of apologizing, and the situations they can be used in. I really appreciate your time and I hope you can shed some light on this.

Thanks guys for your help!

Ernesto Rocha

The Different Uses For This Phrase

To say “I beg your pardon” can be a bit more formal in conversation.

You may typically hear it in conversation if you are asking somebody to repeat themselves, such as if you didn’t quite hear them.

It may be part of British English, but it’s definitely a phrase that has been around for awhile.

This phrase has a few different uses, according to the dictionary:

  1. The one we covered: Asking someone to repeat themselves, such as you didn’t hear them.
  2. Disagreeing with someone
  3. Apologizing: Not for something that is a big deal–the dictionary says apologizing for a “slight mistake”

For the purposes of this lesson, we will focus on the last one which pertains to apologizing.

A Formal Way of Apologizing

This is a formal sounding way to apologize.

If someone said this to you, it would definitely feel impersonal and more professional in nature.

If you break up the phrase it would be “I beg” meaning I ask, and then “your pardon” meaning to forgive me.

This is a phrase that would typically be used for something smaller in nature.

What are some potential situations where you might use this?

  • You knock over someone’s pencil that was on their desk
  • You bump into someone on the train
  • You accidentally go in front of someone in line

Again this is to ask for somebody’s forgiveness, but in a smaller and less meaningful or important situation.

Another formal way to say this would be “forgive me” but this could be for something minor or major.

Apologizing In A Less Formal Way

Sometimes you want to apologize but keep it a bit more informal.

There are plenty of ways to ask for forgiveness without it sounding over the top.

The point is that you say the right words, but that you don’t take it too far or make it too formal.

So how can you apologize in a less formal way?

  1. Sorry: It’s direct and to the point, and it says everything that you need to say. Just saying “I’m sorry” tells them that you mean it and it doesn’t come off as too formal or rehearsed.
  2. Sorry about that: It’s along the same lines but it may be a bit more to the point. You are saying you’re sorry for something very specific and therefore the point is made. There is no confusion about what you are offering the apology for.
  3. My mistake: You are taking the responsibility for things with this. You are taking ownership about the misunderstanding and offering this up. This is a great informal way of apologizing especially if you did make a mistake, even a small one.
  4. Did I get you (getchoo)? Sorry! : This one is for if you bumped into someone — something physical in nature that happened. If you bumped them or ran into them, then you could say this as an informal way of saying you’re sorry.

These are all less formal and so they work quite well.

If somebody said one of these to you they serve the purpose and allow you to move on without any issue.

Takeaway

This is a great question because sometimes saying sorry can be different depending on the situation and level of formality.

There can be different reasons or ways of apologizing to somebody.

You want to find the phrase that works best for you at the time and use this in English conversations with native speakers.

If you have any questions, please put them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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