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Italian word of the day: 'Scusa'

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Italian word of the day: 'Scusa'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You won't regret learning how to use this word properly.


We all want to know how to sound polite when speaking a foreign language, and especially when, inevitably, we need to apologise. But in Italian it can be hard to know if you're apologising correctly.

Is it scusa or scusi? What on earth is scusatemi? When should I use mi dispiace? And what if it's a formal situation? 

The different variations on today's word, scusa, can cause particular agitation if, like me, you're from an apology-happy country like the UK.

While in English a simple “I'm sorry” will usually cut it, that's not the case in Italian. Instead, different circumstances call for different words and expressions. For Italian language learners, 'sorry' really can feel like the hardest word.

The first thing to know is that the standard way of saying a heartfelt and polite "I’m sorry" in Italian is mi dispiace.

But this expresses a level of regret that you probably wouldn't feel when, say, trying to get past someone on a crowded train platform.

Instead, scusa (pronounced 'skoo-za') is the apology you'll probably hear Italian speakers use most often.

The dictionaries say it's an informal apology that's only to be used between friends and family, and for non-serious things.

If you don't understand, or if you mishear someone, the easiest thing to say is scusa? (sorry?) in an informal situation.

If you need to be polite, it's scusi? I would certainly stick to scusi when trying to understand what's going on at the local comune, for example.

There's often confusion about this, as it can sound grammatically odd. But remember here you're using the imperative form of the verb scusare, which should be conjuguated following the normal rules.


When you genuinely want to apologise, even for a small thing, mi dispiace is more suitable. See the difference in this example:

- Scusi, ma cosa significa?

- Mi dispiace, non lo capisco neanche io.

- Sorry, but what does this mean?

- I'm sorry, I don't understand it either.

And definitely do avoid scusa if you've seriously messed up, as it can come across as flippant or insincere.

Another common variation is mi scuso, which can be used to apologise to anyone - but again, not for something very serious.

- Mi scuso del ritardo

- I’m sorry I’m late.

If you need to get past someone, or if you bump into them, you can also say chiedo scusa (sorry/excuse me).

Meanwhile, you can say scusi or mi scusi when you want to attract attention, for example in a restaurant.

- Mi scusi!

- Excuse me!


I often see people use scusa or scusami in this situation too - though again, we're warned by dictionaries and Italian textbooks only to use this with people we know well.

So, if saying "excuse me" to several people you know well, you'd say scusatemi.

Such forms come from the reflexive verb scusarsi, meaning to excuse yourself or to apologise for something you've done.

- Davvero, non deve proprio scusarsi.

- Really, you don't need to apologise.

More formally, and especially if you’ve done something serious, you can use sono desolato/a.

- Sono veramente desolato!

- I’m really sorry!

And if someone apologises to you, you can reassure them by saying:

- non fa niente or non importa (it doesn’t matter)

- nessun problema (no problem)

- non preoccuparti or non si preoccupi (don’t worry).

For greater emphasis, you could use figurati (don’t mention it) with friends, and si figuri is the formal version.

- Scusa, ti disturbo?
- No, figurati.

- Sorry, am I disturbing you?
- No, don’t worry about it

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Anonymous 2021/06/18 18:58
I admit that my Italian is basic, at best, but in so far as I know "scusa" is the formal and "scusi" the informal. Please correct me if I am wrong.
  • Anonymous 2021/06/23 10:50
    Hi Carmine, That is the case if you're talking in the regular present tense: tu scusi ("you excuse") and Lei scusa ("one excuses"). But when you're asking/instructing someone to "excuse me", you need the imperative tense: then it becomes scusa in the informal (tu) and scusi in the formal (Lei). Hope that makes sense! ~ Jessica

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