Lo Siento! What It Really Means and How to Apologize in Spanish
How many times do you say “sorry” on a daily basis? Think about it: when you bump into someone on the bus, misunderstand someone, or arrive a couple of minutes late for a meeting, your first response is to apologize. This common sentiment is expressed in Spanish as lo siento and it is absolutely essential to learn because of how often it’s used.
Understanding How to Say I’m Sorry
As you may know already, “I’m sorry” is translated as lo siento. What does this phrase actually mean? Why is the structure so different than its English counterpart? Are there other ways to express this feeling? We will answer all these questions and delve deep into the meaning of this phrase in this blog post.
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Literal Meaning of Lo Siento
If you have been studying Spanish for a while, you have probably realized by now that this Spanish phrase does not literally translate to “I’m sorry.” Let’s break it down.
Lo = direct object, translated as “it,” referring to a masculine noun
Siento = from the verb sentir, or “to feel,” conjugated in the yo form
Ways to Use Lo Siento
Therefore, these words together can be directly translated as “I feel it.” Actually, in many other cases, the phrase is actually translated in that way. For example:
Describe a Physical Feeling
¿Puedes sentir el temblor? Sí, lo siento muy fuerte.
Can you feel the earthquake? Yes, I feel it very strongly.
Describe an Emotional Feeling
El dolor me afecta mucho. Lo siento profundamente en mi corazón.
The pain affects me greatly. I feel it deep in my heart.
In these cases, lo is referring to a masculine noun previously mentioned in the conversation, and siento refers to either a physical feeling (example 1) or an emotional feeling (example 2). As you can see, sentir, just like the English word “feel” can refer to physical and emotional things. However, there is a definition of sentir that we often overlook, or perhaps never learn.
Definition of Sentir vs. “Feel”
“To feel” in English is very straightforward (apart from slang and colloquial phrases, of course); it refers to a physical or emotional feeling. In Spanish, though, sentir has a much deeper meaning.
- Experimentar sensaciones producidas por causas externas o internas. — To experience sensations produced by external or internal causes.
- Oír o percibir con el sentido del oído. — To hear or perceive something with the sense of hearing.
- Experimentar una impresión, placer o dolor corporal. — To experience a corporal impression, pleasure, or pain.
- Experimentar una impresión, placer o dolor espiritual. — To experience a spiritual impression, pleasure, or pain.
- Lamentar, tener por doloroso y malo algo. — To regret, to regard something as bad and painful.
- Juzgar, opinar, formar parecer o dictamen. — To judge, to believe, or to form an opinion about something.
Most Spanish learners usually relate it to definitions 1, 3, 4, and quite possibly 6 (as it is common in English as well).
Similarly, the Oxford dictionary states that “to feel” means:
- To be aware of (a person or object) through touching or being touched.
- To experience (an emotion or sensation).
Comparing the Two Definitions
The fifth definition from RAE presents sentir as a synonym to regret in its definition of Lamentar, tener por doloroso y malo algo. If we look at the phrase lo siento using that definition, it would be translated at “I regret it.” That phrase resembles the phrase “I’m sorry” much more, right?
Different Languages, Different Expressions
While we have now established that lo siento does, in fact, mean “I’m sorry,” it still may seem a weird way to show this sentiment. What you need to keep in mind is that every language has its own way of expressing ideas. Just because the phrase looks different in Spanish doesn’t mean that it is lesser in any way or that it is incorrect.
Once you understand the full meaning behind Spanish phrases seem strange, you will begin to comprehend a whole other way of viewing language and expression.
What lo siento Really Means
Think about this, what are you really saying with the phrase “I’m sorry?” Sometimes we say it just because, and other times we say it to express our condolences and regrets. However, in Spanish, the phrase lo siento does all that and more.
The Native Use of lo siento
If you ask a native Spanish speaker why they use that phrase more commonly than other similar words, they would probably say because it expresses that you are sharing in the pain that the other person feels.
Look again at the first definition of sentir, which encompasses all the following definitions we talked about. It says “to experience sensations produced by internal or external causes.” Lo siento is a way of expressing your regret by sharing in the pain of the other person—you literally feel their hurt.
Other Ways to Say “Sorry” in Spanish
Of course, just like there are many ways to say “I love you” in Spanish, there are also numerous ways to apologize. Each one carries a slightly different meaning, but they can all be translated to “sorry” in English.
- Disculpa: literally “apology” or “excuse,” used commonly when politely interrupting someone or asking a question
- Perdón: literally “forgiveness,” used commonly when asking for clarification, passing by people, or when you accidentally bump into someone
- Perdona: literally “forgive,” used commonly in polite disagreement
- Lo lamento: literally “I regret it,” usually used to express condolences upon hearing unfortunate news
- Permiso: literally “permission,” used when passing by people or when you need to enter a room/building/office
- Mi más sentido pésame: literally “my most felt condolences,” used when to express condolences when someone passes away
- Qué lo siento: adding “qué” before lo siento is another way to express condolences when someone passes away
Interchangeable Ways to Apologize
There are so many ways to say “I’m sorry” that you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of which phrase to use in each situation. The good news is that lo siento, disculpa, perdón, perdona, and lo lamento can usually be used interchangeably.
Specific Ways to Say I’m Sorry
The above forms may be more common in certain places and situations, but lo siento is more often used, and Spanish speakers will understand what you mean. Three phrases are very specific to a particular situation and so it is a good idea to memorize them and their usage:
- Mi más sentido pésame
- Qué lo siento
Learn what it really means to say Lo Siento in Spanish! Check out this youtube video.
Common Phrases Using lo siento
Here are some phrases using lo siento that you can practice to make sure you are one hundred percent prepared for whatever situation may arise.
- Lo siento por llegar tarde. — I’m sorry for being late.
- ¡Lo siento! — Sorry! / I’m sorry! / Sorry about that!
- Lo siento mucho. No fue mi intención. — I’m so sorry. It wasn’t my intention.
- ¡Lo siento! No quise decir eso. Quería decir… — I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to say that. I meant to say…
- ¡Lo siento! No quise hacer eso. — I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to do that.
- Lo siento, pero no entiendo. ¿Me lo puedes explicar? — I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Can you explain it to me?
- Lo siento, no te escuché. ¿Lo puedes repetir? — I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. Can you repeat that?
Improve Your Fluency by Reading
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Sorry, That’s All for Now!
That is a lot of information to take in! The hardest part is remembering each phrase and how to use it in an actual Spanish conversation. Lucky for you, we have live teachers that can give you the conversational practice you need and keep your newfound skills fresh. Try a free Spanish class with one of our teachers today and ask them about how they use the phrase lo siento!
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