Episode 4 Lesson Recap

How To Apologize & Respond To an Apology in Korean

Key Points &
  • Both 미안합니다 and 죄송합니다 translated as “I’m sorry.” The difference in Korean is in the speech level: 미안합니다 is neutral, without any hierarchy implied and 죄송합니다 is a humble expression which is used to someone higher in terms of the age, rank, kinship relationship, etc.​

  • 괜찮습니다 sounds more formal than 괜찮아요.

  • Apologies: 

  • 죄송합니다 : I’m sorry (humble)

  • 미안합니다 : I’m sorry (neutral)


  • Responses to an apology: 

  • 아니에요 : It’s not it

  • 괜찮아요 :  It’s ok (informal-polite)

  • 괜찮습니다 :  It’s ok (formal-polite)


Directions: Assume the role in the situation and utilize one of the phrases learned in this episode.


1. Heading to a meeting for which you’re late, you press the ‘up’ button outside the elevator to catch it as the door is shutting. After you get into the elevator, what would you say to the people inside? 

2. You’re late for an interview with a prospective summer intern whom you may supervise if hired. As you enter the meeting room, how would you apologize? 

3. Your interviewer walks into the room, apologizing for being late. How would you respond to the interviewer who may be your future boss? 

4. Your intern apologizes for the small errors he made on a document. How would you respond?

Episode 4 Transcript



This is KAY from EK.com 

In this episode, you will learn how to say 1) I am sorry, 2) it’s OK, and 3) don’t mention it. In other words, you’ll know how to apologize and how to respond to an apology in Korean. 


Let’s get right to it. There are two expressions of apology in Korean: 미안합니다 and 죄송합니다, both meaning I’m sorry. The difference between the two phrases is in their speech level: While 미안합니다 is neutral, meaning no hierarchy between the speaker and the listener is implied, 죄송합니다 is a humble expression used to someone “higher” in terms of age, rank, kinship relationship, or any other factors affecting the choice of the speech level made by the speaker. 


For example, if you made a mistake on a report you and your colleague are working on together, you can apologize with 미안합니다. On the other hand, if you prepared a report and your boss points out the mistakes you made, you’d want to use 죄송합니다, the humble expression.


No one will give you a complete, exhaustive list of when one should use a humble expression as opposed to a neutral one, but the general cases introduced in this episode will give you a good idea.


For now, let’s keep in mind 미안합니다 is used with someone on the equal level, or more accurately, someone whom the speaker perceives to be on the equal level. On the other hand, 죄송합니다 is used to someone whom the speaker perceives to be on a higher level, often in a more formal setting.


Shall we practice the expressions? Let’s do that while imagining different situations. 


Situation 1: Imagine yourself stepping on an elderly gentleman’s foot on a crowded subway in Seoul. You would say 죄송합니다. Please repeat after me as you imagine the situation and apologize with the humble expression of “I’m sorry”: 죄송합니다 죄송합니다 죄송합니다 


Situation 2: Imagine yourself as an owner of a shop, and you’re late for a meeting with your staff. As you enter the meeting room, you’d say, 미안합니다, which means I’m sorry in the neutral level. Please repeat after me as you imagine yourself to be the owner and apologizing for being late to a staff meeting: 미안합니다 미안합니다 미안합니다


Now, imagine yourself in the opposite position: How do we respond to an apology in Korean? I’ll introduce three phrases here:


아니에요 [ah-nee-eh-yo]

괜찮아요 [gwehn-chah-nah-yo] 

괜찮습니다 [gwehn-chahn-seum-nee-dah]


The first expression 아니에요 [ ah-nee-eh-yo] means it’s not it. 

So in this context, the English expression that would correspond to 아니에요 is No worries, and Don’t mention it. Its function is essentially negating the other person’s apology or the need for an apology. 


The second expression 괜찮아요 [ gwehn-chah-nah-yo ] means It’s OK. 

You can even use both 아니에요 and 괜찮아요 together. If you do, you’d be saying, No worries. It’s OK. Please repeat after me: 괜/찮/아/요/ Now, let’s put the four syllables together and pronounce it naturally: 괜찮아요 괜찮아요 괜찮아요. If you want to combine the two, you would say 아니에요, 괜찮아요 to mean No Worries, it’s ok.


The third expression 괜찮습니다 [ gwehn-chahn-seum-nee-dah ] has a similar meaning and shares the same verb root as the second phrase 괜찮아요. The common part between 괜찮아요 and 괜찮습니다 is, as you can hear, ‘괜찮.’ The ㅂ니다 form at the end of 괜찮습니다 indicates that it’s more formal than the previous phrase 괜찮아요. Please repeat after me: 괜/찮/습/니/다/ Now, let’s put the five syllables together and pronounce it naturally: [gwehn-chahn-seum-nee-dah] 괜찮습니다 괜찮습니다 괜찮습니다


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Great! Let’s do some practice in the form of a quiz. 


Q1: You are late for an interview with a summer intern. As you walk into the meeting room, how would you apologize to the prospective intern for being late? 


You’re right if you said 미안합니다. 죄송합니다, is used to someone of a higher rank, and isn’t the natural choice here because the interviewee whom you may supervise if hired is not deemed to be higher than you. You’re their boss, after all.


Q2: You’ve come for an interview for an internship position, and are waiting for your interviewer. The interviewer, who could be your future boss, finally walks into the meeting room, apologizing for being late. How would you respond to the apology? 


You are right if you said 괜찮습니다. 괜찮아요 is not wrong, but the expression 괜찮습니다, which is the formal style, is more appropriate in this context where you came from an interview. 


Q3: You’re an intern, and your boss points to the errors on your report. How would you apologize for the mistakes? 


You are correct if you said 죄송합니다. The neutral-level alternative 미안합니다 is not appropriate here because you’re apologizing to your boss and it is, therefore, more appropriate to use the humble form 죄송합니다.


Q4: Now, play the role of the boss. The intern apologized for the errors made on the report, but you just wanted the errors to be corrected and don’t want the intern to feel so bad. What would you say to the intern? 


Correct! You can tell the intern 아니에요 or 괜찮아요. Any one of the two options would work, as they’re on the same level of formality; the only distinction is if you prefer to say “no worries” with 아니에요 or “it’s alright” with 괜찮아요.


OK, we’re done with the quiz!


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Now, here are some suggestions on how you can practice on your own.


  1. Whenever you apologize in your language, say silently either 미안합니다 or 죄송합니다, whichever you think is appropriate based on the formality of the situation. 

  2. Whenever you respond to someone’s apology, also say one of these in your head -- 아니에요, 괜찮아요, or 괜찮습니다


If you’d like to go further and study more in-depth on the topics covered in today’s lesson, especially in terms of grammar, please go to essentialkorean.com and check out the lesson recap for this episode. It's an excellent review for the topics covered here.


OK, That’s it for this episode! 

안녕! 다음 에피소드에서 만나요

See you in the next episode!