不好意思 (Excuse me; sorry)

Yesterday morning René was taking the subway during rush hour. At Jianguomen, an interchange station in downtown Beijing, it was so crowded that René had to push his way onto the train.

As he squeezed into the carriage he said 对不起 several times, but heard others say:

不好意思.

不好意思 is used when you want to express that you have troubled somebody, but it can also serve as an apology or express gratitude:

张老师, 老给您添麻烦, 真不好意思.
I’m sorry to trouble to you all the time, Teacher Zhang.

Here is another example:

我迟到了, 不好意思.
I’m sorry for being late.

On the subway, apart from 不好意思, René heard 对不起. He came to the conclusion that 不好意思 and 对不起 are used interchangeably. He also heard
抱歉(bàoqiàn) which means to feel sorry or apologetic.

让你久等了, 很抱歉.
(My) apologies for keeping you waiting.


不好意思 can also be used in combination with 对不起 or 抱歉. The other day at work René received an incoming call from a number he did not recognize. He sent the following text message:

你是….?
You are…?

And not long after he received the following reply:

不好意思, 我刚才打错了, 对不起.
Sorry, I dialed the wrong number just now, my apologies.

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