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Permiso, disculpa, perdón, lo siento!


Regret is common, and how we acknowledge that regret to others is a separate issue that we all grapple with. Some say without regret you can’t evolve in an uncertain world filled with inevitable mistakes. Fortunately, most of the times we need to apologize are for minor things. With different ways to apologize in Spanish, it can be confusing to know which of them to use when. Here I break down some examples of when to use permiso, disculpa, perdón and lo siento.


Disculpa:

"Disculpa", “discúlpame” or “disculpe” (for the formal usted) would be used as “excuse me" when trying to pass someone in a crowd, or to interrupt someone for a question. If you want to be polite, talking to someone you don't know you can say: "Disculpe, ¿me podría decir la hora, por favor?”. Excuse me, could you tell me the time, please?


* If you want to get the attention of someone:

“Disculpa, ¿eres el hermano de Andrea?” Excuse me, are you Andrea's brother?

* If you ask a favor:

“¿Discúlpame, puedes ayudarme? Excuse me, can you help me.

* If you want to ask where something is:

“¿Disculpe, dónde está la estación?” Excuse me, where's the station?


Permiso:

When trying to pass someone you can also say “permiso” or “con permiso”, which is not technically a way to apologize, since literally what you are doing is asking for permission to pass, but it still is polite. Permiso is asking for consent to do or say something: “Permiso, ¿puedo entrar?”. Excuse me, can I come in?


Perdón:

"Perdón" is asking for personal forgiveness. It could be for little issues like bumping into someone, or if you want someone to repeat something you did not hear. It could also be used to ask forgiveness for more serious offenses. Perdón always works!


* If you are to blame for something, you say:

“¡Perdón, quemé la comida!” Sorry, I burned the food!

* If you said or did something wrong, you can say:

“Perdón, me equivoqué”. Sorry, I was wrong.


Lo siento (literally, I feel it):

* If you did something intentional or unintentional and feel bad about it:

“Lo siento, rompí el vaso". Sorry, I broke the glass.

“Lo siento, no quise ofenderte”. Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you.

* To offer condolences: “Lo siento mucho por tu pérdida". I'm so sorry for your loss.


To sum up,

Permiso: asking for consent to do or say something.

Lo siento: to express regret or remorse, and empathy for someone else.

Perdón: it works like the other three, even as permiso. However, it is not used when just showing empathy (you did nothing wrong), such as in offering condolences.

Disculpa/me: equal to perdón, although commonly used in more everyday situations, probably with less regret, as in the case of needing someone's attention.


I’m a Spanish teacher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2007 I have been exclusively teaching Spanish to people from all over the world. Whether looking for an online Spanish tutor, or in person while visiting Buenos Aires, please reach out to me with any questions you might have!

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