Here is a list of phrases used to express sorry in Chinese, together with the explanation and applicable situation where you can use these phrases.
1. 对不起 duì bù qǐ
Sorry: This is the most common way to say sorry in Chinese. You can use it when you carelessly step on stranger’s foot. Or you can say it when you make your friends waiting for 10 minutes.
2. 真对不起了 zhēn duì bù qǐ le
(I’m) really sorry: 真 (zhēn) is to express that you really mean it, and you really want to ask for forgiveness from someone. It could be used after making your friend waiting for 1 hour, or you decide to do something which is not allowed.
3. 不好意思 bù hǎo yì si
Sorry (I’m embarassed, but..): This is quite common used among mates. You could use it when you reject your best friend’s party because of preparation for examination. Or you have some reason that you feel embarrassed to explain to them why you have done something they don’t like.
4. 真不好意思 zhēn bù hǎo yì sī
Really sorry (I’m really embarassed, but…): This has the same meaning with bù hǎo yì sī, and (zhēn) emphazes the degree you feel sorry for that.
5. 我错了 wǒ cuò le
I’m wrong: This is used when you have already done something wrong. It is more formal than 对不起 duì bù qǐ. You use this one because you have realized the seriousness of the mistake which have been done by you, such as you broke your daddy’s computer.
6. 抱歉 bào qiàn
Sorry (I’m feeling guity): This is even more official than wǒ cuò le, while less and less people use it. It is used for small mistakes which don’t have very bad effects. You can use it when you are late for classes.
7. 恐怕不行 kǒng pà bù xíng
Sorry (I’m afraid not / I don’t think so): It could be used when you want to reject someone’s idea or invitation politely.
Which one is your favorite?