excuse me = sorry = pardon ?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by neliha76, May 22, 2006.

  1. neliha76 Senior Member

    I am wondering about something.

    Do "PARDON", "SORRY" and "EXCUSE ME" are interchangeable ?
    For example, when you are in class and you want to call the teacher, or to interrupt him to ask a question about what he is explaining, or to ask for something, Should I say

    "Sorry, may I have a sheet of paper please ?
    "pardon, may i have a sheet of paper"
    "Excuse me, may i have a sheet of paper ?"

    In French, the most common way to say that is "excusez-moi, je pourrais avoir une feuille s'il vous plait"
  2. maxiogee Banned

    You would use "Excuse me, … "
  3. neliha76 Senior Member

    And in which case should i use "sorry" and "pardon" for examples ?
  4. maxiogee Banned

    You say "Sorry" when you have erred in some way (verbally or physically… stepped on someone's foot, put your cigarette out in their dinner :D)

    You say "Pardon me" when you wish someone to repeat what they said, or when you wish them to make some accommodation for you - to move aside on the pavement, to remove their cigarette from your dinner :D.
  5. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I agree that excuse me is the best choice; still, I'd also be comfortable saying sorry or pardon me in your example.
  6. Yôn Senior Member

    I think pardon would work very well.

    Sometimes, you use Sorry just to be pollite. If someone walks in front of me where I'm working, I'll usually say "sorry," even if it's their fault, just because it's sometimes more pollite to put the blame of it on yourself.

  7. maxiogee Banned

    I do that myself, and hate myself for doing it.
    Isn't it the most ludicrous thing to say?

    I was consciously trying to steer a learner away from something I think wrong. :cool:
  8. Natalya2006 Senior Member

    I would use excuze-me and sorry .

    Excuze me , may I have a sheet of paper please?
    Pardon-me , may I sit here please?
    Sorry , can I speak to you?
  9. ChiMike Senior Member

    Chicago USA
    USA, English
    All of these forms are already shortened (as are the French ones) from longer and even more polite forms:

    I am sorry that I stepped on your foot = sad, unhappy
    I beg your pardon (as in French: but this forum is English only)
    Please excuse me (again as in French)

    The longer expressions give a better idea of when you would use the short form.

    If I am going to interrupt someone to ask a question before s/he has finished speaking, I would ordinarily say: "Please excuse me (or: Please pardon me) but....

    If I need clarification afterwards, "I'm sorry but I don't understand what you mean by....

    Sorry is always an expression of regret.
    Pardon me is always polite (since the word actually means "foregiveness" - a royal (or presidential) pardon. You can say "Pardon" if you are in a crowded theater lobby and are trying to get past a lot of people just standing around talking, but otherwise, in the U.S. at least, we add "me".

    Excuse me has become the general form of apology when you have time to think for a sec. When you just bump into somebody in a crowded place, the first reaction is "Oh, sorry!"
  10. Yôn Senior Member

    Somewhat my point. Also, where I'm from, "excuse me" and "pardon me" have a very similar meaning. In the case of walking through a crowd; both would mean something like "may I pass in front of you?"

    As an employee in a restaurant, I wouldn't say "may I pass in front of you?" If I had begun passing in front of a customer, I would back off and apologize for trying to cut them off. They are the customer, and they are always right ;). However, when interacting with co-workers and when out in the general public, I use "excuse me" because at those times I really do want to pass in front of people, and it's not my job to be overly pollite.

  11. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    I use "excuse me" if I want to get someone's attention.
    "I'm sorry" or "pardon" if I couldn't hear you.
    "I beg your pardon" if I heard what I think I heard.
  12. ChiMike Senior Member

    Chicago USA
    USA, English
    For the last, of course, with an offended intonation that shifts the meaning to an accusation. I do it too!

    I had a sixth grade teacher who made an offender write "Pardon me" repetitiously 25 times each time he said: "Huh?" when he hadn't heard something. I was a repeat offender (I hated the guy for other reasons.) So I still say: "Pardon me" or "Beg pardon" (very common here in the Mid West). But, if I'm annoyed (whether at the person or just generally), I do curtly say: "What?" or "What say?" (That's from "What say ye?" for any purists who might think it's just wrong.)

    For the first, I usually say, unless they are uselessly in my way - standing right inside the door of the elevator or the subway car instead of moving in - "Excuse me, please."

    But when in a hurry, if I haven't really made any big faux pas, I just say "Sorry" and hurry on before there is any reaction.

    Except in formal situations like a classroom, lecture hall, or hierarchical business or staff meeting, the use of these words and their effectiveness seems to depend more on the tone of voice and the facial expression used when saying them than what fine distinctions we make about what they mean.

    And, of course, if I think someone has over-reacted to some minor fault, there is always "Well, EXCUUUSE ME!"
  13. KittyCatty

    KittyCatty Senior Member

    English UK
    In the UK, I don't think we use "Pardon" as much as it seems you in the US do, I would prefer to say, "excuse-me may I have some paper?" long before I would consider saying Sorry (unless I was feeling meek and apologetic, like I was interrupting somebody by asking) and I never use Pardon me in this context- I think this is a BE thing. The only time I say Pardon is when I haven't heard somebody - meaning please repeat what you just said, and we are taught to say Pardon me at a young age to excuse belching. In fact, you can often say Sorry? or Pardon? When you haven't heard somebody, just to give another use of these words. To sum up, Excuse-me is often if you want to get past or get through, or to politely get attention. Sorry is much more apologetic, and in the UK, Pardon is rarely heard except in the contexts I have pointed out.
  14. maxiogee Banned

    Ahh yes, the good old "I know what you meant, but I heard what you said!"
  15. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    I agree. In England you say 'excuse me' before causing someone injury or inconvenience, and 'sorry' afterwards, and 'pardon me' after a belch or the like. Eg when entering a crowded underground train, first you say 'excuse me', then if they don't get out of your way you gouge out your fellow passenger's eye with your umbrella, then you say 'sorry'.
  16. ruffee102001 New Member

    English, USA
    I use them interchangeably.

    I will say that if someone cuts me off and I have to slam on the breaks if I'm driving or trip over myself if I'm walking, I’ll say "Excuse you." I used to say, "Excuse me," but I decided it's not my fault and the other person knows that. People either don't hear you or don't care enough to say anything. I did have a woman say that to me in Vegas when I didn't see her and accidentally (and rudely) cut her off. Naturally, I apologized and then kept walking. I couldn't help but laugh because I was happy to hear someone else actually uses that phrase (and has some guts). As someone who says that little bit, I’m amused when someone says it to me, but if I heard that back when I would excuse myself, I would have been offended. So if there is anyone else out there that says, “Excuse me” and walks away puzzled because you weren’t at fault, you can join me (and the Vegas woman) and say what you really think.
  17. rogueangel21 New Member

    English - American
    Sometimes I would use sorry if I wanted something repeated, "sorry" with a slight turn of the head to move my ear toward the speaker and a slight raise of the eyebrow. In my experience in my part of the US we don't use pardon (me) very much at all. Usually excuse me for people who are in your way or vice versa, getting someones attention, but all these can be changed in meaning with a slight change in intonation to be more in a rude or interrogitive mood.
  18. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    While its intention may be polite, because it was considered pretentious it was at one time considered socially unacceptable in what was known as polite society. One may be amused to see what Emily Post had to say about "Pardon me" back in 1922:

  19. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    If I want to get past someone on the street or in a shop, I always say "sorry", if the person refuses to move, or doesn't hear me, then both are often combined into "sorry, excuse me". (This may be an Irish-only phenomenon).

    In the original example given above I'd probably say "excuse me" though "sorry" would be fine too. I'd never say "pardon", it almost sounds pretentious.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2009
  20. Elwintee Senior Member

    London England
    England English
    As a BE speaker, I would never say "Pardon" or "Pardon me", having been brought up Emily-Post style. However I might well say "I beg your pardon?" to a comparative stranger, if I haven't heard what they said to me. Also, I would certainly say "I beg your pardon!" (or "I'm so sorry") if I inadvertently poked someone in the ribs in a crowded tube train.
  21. Even though I speak AE, "pardon me" sounds a bit silly, perhaps because it was so widely pronounced as "paaaaaaahdon ME" when parodying the speech of pretentious people in movies and TV shows of old - very much along the lines of Mrs Post's comments. This is no longer done, so perhaps Americans who grew up after the '60s find the phrase less odd.

    I'm glad to hear that there are others who (still) say "I beg your pardon?" when they mean "how dare you say that!"

    When trying to attract the attention of someone who seems not to have noticed, many people nowadays say "hello?" as though entering an empty house and calling to see if anyone were home. However, I think "excuse me," said with increasing force if the lack of attention continues, is still more common and certainly more polite.
  22. tigerduck Senior Member

    German / Switzerland
    So, if I get this right, when you ask somebody for directions or whether a seat is free etc. you would start your question with excuse me rather than with sorry or pardon me?
  23. trevyn New Member

    English - US
    I agree that "excuse me" is the most correct form, but in colloquial speech, "pardon me" is also acceptable, and "sorry" can absolutely work as well, particularly in the case where the person you're interrupting is obviously busy or inconvenienced.

    e.g. "Sorry [to interrupt you], may I ask you a question?"

    Note that "sorry" must immediately be followed by a question or request. If you say "excuse me" or "pardon me" alone while looking like you're trying to ask a question, the other person will generally acknowledge you. "Sorry" alone will not necessarily get a response, and may get confused looks depending on context.

    "Sorry [for bumping into you]" -> No response needed.
    "Sorry [to interrupt]" -> Ok, but what is it you want?

    "Sorry" alone is interpreted as the first variant, you need to follow it up with a question to get the second variant.
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2011
  24. Elwintee Senior Member

    London England
    England English
    I agree, trevyn, with most of what you say, but I disagree when you say:
    "...in colloquial speech, "pardon me" is also acceptable". Of course it depends on what your hearer is used to hearing, but not to mince words its usage or avoidance is a 'class' thing (cf Nancy Mitford). 'Pardon me' has an unfortunate history (see post #21), and in my view should be avoided like the plague. "I beg your pardon?" is fine, and has many uses (genuine enquiry, outrage at an insult, a veiled put-down, etc).
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 9, 2012

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