How to apologize in Spanish - perdone vs disculpe vs lo siento

In English there is this convenient word “sorry” that can be used for so many different situations. But this is different if you are speaking Spanish.

“Sorry”, you mutter as you bump into someone unintentionally on the sidewalk. You are in a big hurry. “Sorry, I’m late!” You exclaim as you meet your friend for a quick coffee before work. As you reach up for a big hug (and maybe a besito) you knock their phone off the table, “Oh! I’m so sorry!” you exclaim, really regretting your clumsiness and recognizing that it was your fault.

Like I said, if you are speaking Spanish, this short scenario would allow for three different words of apology. The “lo siento” you learned in Spanish 101 would be too dramatic for some circumstances. Intrigued? Let’s break it down.

“Perdón, disculpa, and lo siento” are all ways to say “I’m sorry” that you should know if you are becoming fluent in Spanish. When you bump into someone without any bad intentions, you can simply say, “Perdón.” If you say, “lo siento” it’s dramatic and the person might look at you as if you are guilty of some serious crime. You can just say, “Sorry, I was distracted.” Perdón, iba distraído.

Showing up late to meet your friends is another situation that has no cause for drama! In Spanish speaking countries, the locals are (generally) chronically late. So if you are just 5 or 10 minutes late but you feel you have to mention it, just say “disculpa” or more specifically, “Disculpa, sé que llego cinco minutos tarde.”

Now, breaking someone’s phone is a serious offense even if it wasn’t intentional. What shoud you say then?

And what if you got in a big fight with your Spanish speaking boyfriend or girlfriend? Which one will be the most appropriate to smooth things over? If you want to learn more about this from a native speaker, and find out which word is the most versatile, you should watch the video!