Italian word of the day: ‘Scusa’

Italian word of the day: 'Scusa'
Photo: DepositPhotos
You won't regret learning how to use this word properly.

We all want to be polite when speaking a foreign language, and especially when, inevitably, we need to apologise.

But in Italian it’s hard to know if you’re apologising correctly. Is it scusa or scusi? When should I use mi dispiace? And what if it’s a formal situation?

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

But don’t sweat. Let’s have a close look at all the different variations on today’s word, scusa.

The standard way of saying I’m sorry is mi dispiace.

But this expresses a level of regret that you probably wouldn’t need when, say, trying to get past someone in a crowded shop.

Instead, scusa (pronounced “skoo-za”) is the apology I 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. But I’ve heard Italians use it in all sorts of situations, so I’m not sure how true that is (or how good their manners were.)

If you don’t understand, or if you mishear someone, the easiest thing to say is scusa? (sorry?) or if you need to be more formal, scusi? (I stick to scusi when trying to understand what’s going on at my local comune.)

– 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.

But do avoid scusa if you’ve seriously messed up, as it can come across as flippant.

Another common variation is mi scuso, which can be used to apologise to anyone – but 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 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.

All of these words come from the verb scusarsi, which means to excuse yourself, or to apologise.

– Davvero, non deve proprio scusarsi.

– Realy, 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 can use figurati (don’t mention it) with friends, and si figuri in the formal form.

– Mi dispiace di non averti richiamata prima.

– Non preoccuparti!

– I’m sorry that I didn’t call you back sooner.

– Don’t worry!

– Scusa, è colpa mia.

– Nessun problema.

– Sorry, it’s my fault.

– No problem.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

Member comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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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