Is ""I'm sorry that I offended you" a real apology?

All things being equal, context aside (if that’s even possible), it seems to me it’s sort of a passive-aggressive non-apology. It means you regret my taking offense, not that you are apologizing for having said something hurtful. But maybe I’m just being hypersensitive. What do you think?

And FTR, this is not about anything between me and another Doper.

Not sure how much of a debate you are likely to get out of this, but my own take FWIW is…it depends. Say I’m talking to someone and I discover they are a fundamentalist who has very strong feelings about evolution. Now, I’m not going to back off of my own stance, just because it offends someone. By the same token, I’m not going to intentionally rub someones face in their silly superstitions or ignorance (ok…I probably would, but we are speaking hypothetically here), so if I brought up a sensitive subject I might very well say ‘I’m sorry I offended you by bringing this up, let’s change the subject since I’m not going to convince you and you aren’t going to convince me, so it’s really unprofitable for us to continue our current conversation’.

In point of fact, I actually have said pretty much this exact thing when I’ve drifted into a conversation with someone who held radically different view points to my own. It boils down to this really…do you wish to remain civil with the person, or do you wish to continue the argument? If there is no real possibility of either a civil discourse or an enjoyable argument (one of my favorite things), and if you really don’t want to come to blows, then I think a perfectly good out is to simply say ‘I’m sorry that I offended you, let’s just agree to disagree and move on’.

Just my two cents worth (and a bargain at triple the price!)…


It rather depends on context. If you have done something that in all honesty you thought was non-offensive, but nevertheless you offended someone, then you might rightly be sorry that your words/actions caused offense (but not necessarily sorry for the fact that you said/did whatever it was).

Now, if you had asked about the phrase “I’m sorry if I offended you”, then the answer is no, that’s a bullshit ‘apology’.

That might be all that’s due. Are you saying that if you take offense that the other person is obligated to concede that you’re right, even if he or she doesn’t agree?

I don’t know that I understand the distinction Suburban is making…?

My answer to your question is, unfortunately, pretty much the same as the others. It’s really not possible to characterize it without knowing the context.

As a general rule of thumb, though, I would say that it’s your choice to be offended, not mine to protect you from your choice. As long as all the people involved in a given interaction are presumed to be well-intentioned, then taking offense is on the person who chooses to. So if I said something that I had not intended to be offensive, and you told me that you were, I wouldn’t say “I’m sorry that I offended you”, I would say “I’m sorry that you were offended.”

People spend an enormous amount of energy being offended and I find it ridiculous and soul-sucking, myself.

It can be a real apology, yes. It acknowledges the person was offended by something you said and expresses that wasn’t your intention. It doesn’t withdraw what was said, but you might not want to do that (or need to).

The one that is phony, at least to my ears, if “I’m sorry if anyone was offended.” With that one, there’s no responsibility being taken, there’s no acknowledgment of the fact that someone was offended, and there’s the implication that the offended people are wrong and are forcing an unnecessary apology.

E.H., in the same situation, how would you feel about this response – “I don’t believe I did anything offensive, and thus I don’t believe I owe you an apology. I will not apologize. If you choose to continue to feel offended, that is your own responsibility, not mine.”

I’m sorry you were offended by something I said.

That’s not an apology at all.

PreCISEly. “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” is a politicians’s apology – the ‘if’ makes the offense a conditional possibility and doesn’t acknowledge the fact of the offense and take responsibility for it. It turns the situation around and makes the offendee into the responsible party. It is the mark of a weasel.

“I’m sorry that I offended you” is a genuine apology: the offense may or may not have been deliberate, but it is acknowledged, responsibility for it is taken by the one who gave offense, and the two parties to the discussion can move on in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding.

They ARE the responsible party. (This is very difficult without examples…) If someone says something that they do not know is offensive, and they don’t intend to be offensive, they have done nothing wrong. Apologizing if someone ends up being offended is certainly nice, but not necessary.

Because where do you draw the line? There are people in the world who are incredibly thin-skinned and look for opportunities to be offended… they get to make others feel responsible and sorry because of their issues? Why?

It is courteous and pleasant to express regret that something you’ve said turned out to be something that someone else found offensive. But the person who made the statement innocently is not a weasel or a jerk if they frame their apology in such a way as to decline taking responsibility, because they aren’t responsible.

“I’m sorry you found my statement offensive.” can be stated sincerely and meaningfully.

The thing is- as I’ve said before- Everything is offensive to Someone. It’s getting increasingly difficult to express any sort of opinion nowadays without someone saying “That’s offensive!”

And I’m not talking about “I’m not a racist but the economy would be in better shape if we weren’t giving so much social security to the darkies, amiright?” sort of stuff that is (rightly) offensive to “the average person”, but honestly held and reasonable opinions like “I don’t like cats because they kill the local wildlife”, which is likely to offend cat owners who may very well say something like “Mr. Tiddles is a lovable cat who sits on my lap and purrs! How dare you call him a murderer!”

The point is, the first speaker was not intending to say “I hate YOUR cat”, they were saying “I do not like cats in general, here is my reason”. It’s not the first speaker’s fault that the listener is a subscriber to Cat Fancy Magazine and on the community Cat Show management board and has chosen to take their general remark as a personal attack on them and/or their pet.

In that case, “I’m sorry if you were offended” is a perfectly acceptable apology- it’s basically saying “I didn’t mean to cause offence but you’re still being too sensitive about the subject and I do not concede that I’ve done anything wrong.”

As Stoid rightly points out, entirely too many people go out of their way looking for things to be offended about nowadays. If people apologise every time they say something that someone else might be offended by, we’d be beginning every sentence with “I apologise” and ending every sentence with “Sorry”. That’s not something I consider a desirable state of affairs.

Since I recently said it in another thread, I believe it is a real apology.

I guess it could be translated to mean: "It was not my intention to offend you, but since my words were interpreted by you to be offensive, I feel bad that they were said in such a way as to allow you to make such an inference. Perhaps I could have made my statement differently. "

I think it can be genuine (even if it may often not be). Particularly if the person didn’t realise that their statements might cause offence and if had they known they might have either phrased it differently or not have raised the subject.

I agree that the key is inclusion of the word “if”.

When present the apology is BS.

I’m sorry if that offends you.

I agree that “I’m sorry you were offended” is a total non-apology. It is to locate the problem in the person who was offended, not the person who made the offensive statement.

People who like to use ridiculous language use this trick all the time. If somebody says “he Jewed me out of fifty bucks” and I object, that person is apt to say “well I’m sorry if you’re offended”. It’s like they did nothing wrong by equating Jewishness with thievery. It’s all my problem because I’m so goddamn sensitive as to think that there’s something wrong with racism.

It is acknowledgment that you are hurt, which is good, it is possible that it was not intended to hurt, and the hurt is on your end only, which he should not have to suffer for, that is not his burden - he in this case did nothing wrong. If this be the case the hurt person should seek why that bothered him and seek out the root, which was not him.

I don’t believe that counts as an actual apology. By it, you aren’t the one in the wrong; the problem is very much put in the other person’s lap, and you don’t concede any kind of wrongness on your own part. The only way, as I see it, that an apology along the lines of the example works is it the “wrong” admitted includes the point that you were wrong to believe that what you said would not be offensive, or that it was offensive. Basically, the argument of ignorance - “I’m sorry that I didn’t realise how offended people would be” can be a real apology to me, because it concedes that you were wrong in some way. Specifically including that you haven’t done anything wrong just makes it, “Oh, I did everything perfectly. I’d prefer that you werent offended, and I think you are wrong to be offended, but it certainly isn’t my fault that you are.”

Honestly, if this is your motivation, I don’t see how I could consider you to be sorry on a lot of things. You’re just apologising for practical reasons, not because you, yourself, actually believe yourself to be at fault. You’re apologising* for them*.

It depends. There’s a difference between “I honestly didn’t mean to say that in a hurtful way” and “Sorry buddy, but I’m just keepin’ it real”.

In my view its most practically useful to use an apology for taking responsibility for ones own behaviour.

If you cant identify behaviour you could have done differently, then theres nothing to apologise for and instead the issue is possibly one of regret rather than apology.

Ie I apologise for offending you means I apologise for communicating with you in a way that didn’t take into account your feelings or views on the subject and that I recognise it was needlessly offensive.

"I apologise if’ is as said not an apology in my view as it takes no responsibility for ones own behaviour and is really an indirect criticism.

In my view its more useful or accurate to say you regret the situation or understand this is a sensitive subject but thats your honest opinion in situations like that as it makes it clear you do not consider yourself to be responsible for the feelings of offense but dont like that the situation has occurred.

Of course if you dont sincerely think that then you’re probably in a fight no matter what. It really depends whether your intention is to deescalate, or to win in the end rather than the exact wording and whether you’re willing to keep working at that or not.


IMHO it is a true statement of regret, just perhaps not for what you had hoped they were regretting.

“I apologize if I’ve offended you” = an apology without an admission of guilt. This is what you say when you really didn’t mean to offend, but are unable to equivocate about the actual meaning of your words/actions.

“I’m sorry you were offended” = an insult aimed at the ridiculous nature of the impugned offense. This is what you say when the offendee seems like a real nutjob.

Big difference!