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Meaning of “すみません/Sumimasen” and how and when to use it

すみません is a word that has three meanings: Apology, Appreciation, and Request.

The phrase すみません is used in situations where you apologize for causing trouble or making a mistake, when you express your gratitude for something done to you, or when you make a request while feeling sorry for putting a burden on someone. in a business context, this phrase is appropriate for someone who is in equal or lower rank than you, and you should not be using it to someone superior to you like your boss.



Sometimes すみません is written or spoken as すいません/Suimasen and it’s derived from すみません. It is said to have originated from the sound of み/mi in the すみません changed to い/i. Either すみません or すいません will convey the same message to other people because すいません is a spoken word, it should not be used when it’s written. Therefore, use すみません instead of すいません in emails and letters.


Example of すみません: Apology

先日はなかなか時間が取れず、すみませんでした。

せんじつはなかなかじかんがとれず、すみませんでした。

I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to take time out the other day.


ご心配をおかけしてすみませんでした。

ごしんぱいをおかけしてすみませんでした。

I'm sorry for making you worry.


お忙しい中、ご面倒をお掛けしてすみませんでした。

おいそがしいなか、めんどうをおかけしてすみませんでした。

I'm sorry to have caused you so much trouble in your busy schedule.


When you have caused trouble or burden to someone, すみません is used as an apology but it is important to note that depending on the matter you are apologizing for, and the person you are apologizing to, it may not be appropriate. In business situations, すみません can only be used to apologize for minor mistakes. Apologizing for a serious mistake or negligence with すみません is very insulting and inappropriate. Although すみません is a polite term, it is not an honorific and can only be used to people who are the same or lower in rank or who are close to you.



Example of すみません: Appreciation

出張のお土産までいただいて、すみません。

しゅっちょうのおみやげまでいただいて、すみません。

I'm sorry that I even received a souvenir from your business trip.

→Meaning: Thank you so much for the souvenir from your business trip


わざわざ手伝ってもらってすみません。とても助かります。

わざわざてつだってもらってすみません。とてもたすかります。

I'm sorry you had to go out of your way to help me. It's very helpful.

→Meaning: Thank you for much for helping me, it’s very helpful.


丁寧に教えていただいて、どうもすみません。

ていねいにおしえていただいて、どうもすみません。