Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

“I’m sorry the board didn’t accept your proposal,” I said to a friend years ago.

“Why are you sorry?” he replied. “It wasn’t your fault.”

I still remember his sharp rebuff in the face of my sincere expression of disappointment for what had happened to him.

For years thereafter I was wary of using the phrase, “I’m sorry.” Fortunately, I have gotten over my wariness because there is such a wealth of honest emotion those words can express.

The word sorry, according to my trusted friend, the unabridged dictionary, means “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.“  Please note the word sympathy.

Emily Post’s Etiquette suggests that “I’m sorry for your loss” is a perfectly acceptable expression of sympathy in the case of a loved one’s passing. And, do you remember John Denver singing that he was “sorry for the way things are in China?” Those circumstances are out of our control; we have no power over them but we are correct in owning our sorrow because of them.

Now, if you have done something for which you are sorry, in the sense that you regret it, Google has plenty of examples—over 100—of how you can apologize, from a simple sentence to absolute verbal groveling.

This space seems perfect for ending with a little quip or a pithy saying, but I have neither. I’m sorry.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at