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two women apologizing


In this module, you will learn the ins and outs of apologizing in Spanish.


What is an apology?

In an apology, the speaker recognizes an infraction or offense caused through his or her fault and attempts to repair the relationship with the hearer.

For example, if you bumped into someone in the market in Otavalo, Ecuador, you might say Perdón. Or, if you accidentally ruin a friend's brand new shirt by spilling wine on it you might say Disculpa. No sé que pasó. La limpio esta noche y te la devuelvo mañana. As you can see, these vary in terms of complexity and the specific language strategies used.

What makes apologies difficult?

Apologies are a very difficult communicative act to perform for a number of reasons. A few of these reasons are:

  • They can be emotionally charged and can have a bigger impact on the relationship than, for example, a compliment. 
  • The situation may be fairly tense if the infraction is large, or if the hearer is in a more powerful position in the social scale. 
  • They tend to require more complex language structures in Spanish and longer interactions.

As you know, apologies can be very distinct from one another and, sometimes, can even be ambiguous. Play the two sample apologies below to get an idea of how they might differ.

A Big Apology!

Apologies are especially important to master in case something big happens. Carlos and Nelly are close friends from Peru. In this situation, Carlos was borrowing Nelly's computer and it crashed, taking Nelly's final paper with it. The paper is due in an hour and the paper is lost. Carlos (sitting) has to apologize to Nelly (standing).

In general, how effective do you think Carlos' apology was? Explain your answer.

How many different pragmatic strategies does he use to apologize? What are they?

What counts as an apology?

Think for a minute about what you consider an apology in your native language. Summarize in two or three sentences below how you would characterize an apology if you had to explain it to a nonnative speaker of English.

Now, watch the conversation between Sara (walking in) and Lisa (sitting down) in English. Sara is late for a meeting with Lisa to finish their assignment for class.

Do you think Sara apologizes during their conversation? Why or why not?

Is there something Sara could have done to make a more explicit apology? Is it necessary in this situation?

Do you think this would be an easy situation for a nonnative speaker of English to handle? Justify your answer.


What will you learn about apologies in this module?

In this module, we will examine various pragmatic strategies you can use in Spanish to apologize in an appropriate manner.

At the end of this module, you will know how to:

  1. Identify contexts that warrant apologies in Spanish.
  2. Understand various language strategies you can use to express different types of apologies.
  3. Perceive and consider important social factors when apologizing.
  4. Understand the variance in apologies based on different varieties of Spanish.


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