"I'm Sorry, But...."

Updated on December 23, 2011
S.B. asks from New Braunfels, TX
29 answers

I was hoping that someone with a psychology background can answer this question for me.

A person I know will offer apologies readily, but it's always followed by an excuse.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you, but I was tired."
"I'm sorry I forgot your birthday gift, but I didn't know if you wanted one."
"I'm sorry I ran into your fence, but the dog distracted me."

It's like the "but" negates the "sorry," KWIM? Why would a person do this? And is it something you can call to their attention and they can change?

What can I do next?

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answers from Portland on

The do this because they feel defensive. It may be that they're not willing to accept responsibility for the act. Or it may be that they just don't know how to use language to express their feelings.

It depends on the person whether or not they are willing to hear and change.

I find these sorts of statements OK when they're worded differently. For example insert "and" instead of "but". Or with two separate statements. "But" sounds like an excuse. "And" gives more information about why this happened.

Later: The only way to know if this person is making an excuse or giving a reason is to ask them.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

The but does negate the sorry and you could point that out to them. Challenge them to apologize without using the word but.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Other ones I don't like are "I'm sorry you got upset." "I'm sorry my actions annoyed you. (meaning, I'm not sorry for MY ACTIONS, I'm just sorry that YOU'RE so sensitive it pi$$ed you off)" "I'm so sorry you feel that way." Like THEY did nothing wrong, and the person REACTING is the one at fault. Hate that.

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answers from St. Louis on

I don't think this is a psych question. It is a grammar question. They use the word but to introduce the reason for their error. If it makes you feel better take the but out.

I am sorry I snapped at you, I was tired.

I am sorry I forgot your birthday gift, I didn't know you wanted one.

I am sorry I ran into your fence, the dog distracted me.


I tend to give reasons for my failure because I want the person to be aware that I understand where I failed. Probably because my mom made me use this sequence every time I apologized as a child.

14 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think you have a lot of good answers here. Usually, if I add something to an apologetic statement, it's an "and". "I'm sorry I forgot to put out the trash and I'll take it out right now/and you were a trooper to do it for me. Thanks." or "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday and I'd like to take you out for coffee later." or "I'm sorry I snapped at you and you were right to call me on it. I'm not feeling well today, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you."

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


I don't think this is a psych question. This is semantics.

What you see as an "excuse" is the person who is apologizing stating their reason for being short. Take the "but" out.

the person IS Apologizing!!! Why can't you take it at face value? instead of seeing it as a cop out - see it that they are TRYING to apologize and give you a REASON for the action. Does it make it all right? Not all the time - but give the person some slack...try to change YOURSELF...be more accepting of the apologies.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

This is interesting. I've been reading the previous answers. It certainly seems as if the "but" is at the least an attempt to soften the offense: "You see, I had a very good reason for what I was doing - the circumstances were reasonable - but, shucks, it just turned out wrong." I notice that this is a very typical response when one gets stopped by traffic officers; almost the first thing one's mind does is think of some sort of excuse (for "one's mind," you may read, "MY mind," if you wish).

Jo W. leaves out the "but" and makes the sentence just an explanation without its being an excuse. It could just as easily be said, "I was tired, and I'm sorry I snapped at you because of it." She had a good mama to teach her, I think.

The form with the "but" in it *can* still be a form of apology, I think, even though the person may be trying to save a little face in the process. It may depend on the person. A definite non-apology would be: "If you're ticked off because I forgot your birthday, I'm sorry."

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answers from Bellingham on

How about, 'I'm sorry if I offended you'. Or, 'I'm sorry if you took it the wrong way,' etc. Now that's a crappy faux apology!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I was taught that truth is always after the "but". S/he's making excuses. I wouldn't even try to correct their behavior unless it's your child.

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answers from Chicago on

in child psychology this would be called a kick/pat your patting them and saying hey great at the same time your kicking them in the backside.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I tell my daughter she has to apologize without adding "but I..." or "I only meant...." or "but I just thought that...."

Ask yourself how you would likely take your friend's statements if they were exactly the same except for the word "but" (another poster noted this too).

I would say that there is a difference between an excuse for messing up and an explanation for messing up. The former isn't acceptable but the latter certainly is, especially when the person giving the apology clearly knows the difference. I'm trying to teach my daughter to say, "I'm sorry. I was tired. That isn't an excuse, only an explanation. I'll do that chore now" or whatever.

You asked the question kind of theoretically so it's not clear who this person is in your life, but if it's someone to whom you are truly close, close enough that you can talk honestly and not fear this person will never talk to you again, then the next time it happens, you could try saying "Thank you for saying you're sorry. I do appreciate that. But here's what I heard: 'I'm sorry but I didn't know you expected me to meet you at 3.' I'm just not clear if the 'but' in that sentence means you're explaining that you didn't know, or if the 'but' means that your not knowing means it's OK."

Just a thought. Because it could end up in an argument over semantics. I bet this person doesn't even realize he or she says "but" every time and might even swear he or she does not do this. It really may not be worth trying to change it. Unless this person seems to need to apologize to you often -- which raises other issues besides just the "but" issue! -- you might want to drop it.

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answers from Charlotte on

She isn't apologizing. She is telling you that what she said was justified. She thinks you and everyone else she does it to is stupid enough to fall for it. It makes her feel powerful.


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answers from Seattle on

I remember when I got beat up by a boyfriend for years. EVERY TIME he would hit me he would say...I'm sorry...but if you would have LISTENED to me I wouldn't have hit you. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? That's what I think of every time I hear an "I'm sorry, but..." I have told my kids and husband I just want the apology, I don't want you to justify your bad behavior.

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answers from Richmond on

NOOOOO, 'but' should NEVER follow an apology, it's voids it!

My husband is notorious for this... it had been brought up in counseling. Part of an apology is taking responsibility for your actions, regardless of who was 'at fault' or 'why' it happened... you're apologizing for hurting the relationship, not necessarily apologizing for the action or comment... does that make sense?

We're still working on it ;)

My husband says I'm never the first to apologize... maybe so, but I don't take my apologies lightly. I often want to give a little thought into what happened, I'm not instantly going to blurt out an 'I'm sorry' the second something happens. REAL, BONA FIDE apologies are something people take so lightly now, and I hate that.

So no, an apology should NEVER be followed by a 'but'...

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answers from Cleveland on

I think it depends in a way... The bday one strikes me as trying to shift blame. The fence one - if a dog really distracted someone bc they had to swerve to miss the dog or something like that, it's not entirely their fault but they're still sorry it happened. And my husband and I both will say we're sorry for snapping but we have a headache or are tired etc. I almost prefer it in that instance bc it tells me my husband knows he shouldn't snap but the reason he did is he's tired vs he just doesn't like me anymore or something else is bothering him. So likely this person is excessive but not sure it's always an "excuse" vs perhaps an explanation. Sometimes just an I'm sorry would leave me wondering why the person did what they did...

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answers from Phoenix on

It kind of reminds me of "no offense but...(insert insult here.) It's just away around taking responsibility. I'm guilty of this sometimes and I really need to admit guilt without shifting blame. We can be tired without snapping or admit we didn't get a gift because we're procrastinators or that we ruined your fence because the dog, well, distracted me...LOL Anyway, I'm good with excuses too. I think some people probably don't even realize they're doing this.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pocatello on

I think it is insecurity... people don't want the RESPONSIBILITY of thier actions... most of us don't feel secure enough to adsmit that we have faults... so we redirect the blame on someone or something else.

It isn't her fault- it is 'tired's' fault (no doubt she is tired because of work, kids, illness or something else- so it is their fault)
It isn't her fault she forgot your birthday- it is yours (why didn't you tell her you wanted a gift? haha)...
It isnt her fault she ran into your fence- it is the dog...

it isn't a sincere apology, but it doesn't reflect on you, it probably reflects on her insecurity more. She is so afraid her mistakes will reflect on her character that she cannot just say "I am sorry, I was wrong" or "I am sorry I forgot you" or "I was not paying attention, I am sorry I ran into your fence".

A few years ago I resolved to try to NOT make excuses for my actions... I do what I do, and if I screw up, I am responsible for it. When I REALLY screw up, it is HARD not to shift the blame away from myself... but by taking the responsibility for my own actions I do think it has made me a more careful, compassionate and considerate person. I cannot say the "devil made me do it" anymore... so I try harder not to screw up in the first place. BUT it is something I did, for myself. if her apologies offend you, I guess you could say something to her... but since you aren't her parent- she might just think you are being stuck up or something...


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answers from Sioux City on

She does it because it works. I just hate big buts! I have went so far as to say I don't believe your apology because you weren't genuine when you gave it.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I agree with you--it's a total cop out.
I HATE apologies followed by the "but"! I'd rather not even get the apology.
I don't know why people do it, but SO many do!
It's almost like:
*They're apologizing because they HAVE to
*They have to make it clear that even though what they did/said was completely wrong--they had their "reasons"
*They are just plain old uncomfortable with the act of apologizing
The value of that kind of apology is low.
It takes a bigger person to apologize with sincerity and class. If you hear the "but" chances are it's not sincere, and they lack class.

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answers from Los Angeles on

She can't take full responsibility for anything, gosh I know a few people like this. I would respond with, "Ok, maybe next time you can warn me if you're tired, "I don't need another birthday gift, a Happy Birthday is enough, and "I understand, hope you understand that you will need to reimburse me for a new fence." Maybe she'll get the point that you have to take responsibility for your actions. good luck.

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answers from Dover on

I don't have a psychology background but I would think it indicates a lack of williness to accept responsibility of ones own actions. Yeah...I did it but it wasn't my fault!

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answers from San Antonio on

These type of people do not like to admit they made a mistake. Something from their child hood was deeply instilled where mistakes were a sign of weakness and they were severely reprimanded for errors or made fun of.
Now they protect themselves from that hurt by making excuses. They are trying to protect themselves from pain. They were not raised with a "we all make mistakes" mentality.

My father-in-law did this to my husband and all his siblings. You can tell when you listen to their exchanges and see the relationships with their spouses. It can be changed, but slowly and with love. Lots of love and patience.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cumberland on

She means to say-"I'm sorry, but I am such an idiot"! I am easily able to do this-but it is difficult for many others.

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answers from Boston on

It's the "non-pology." I do this with my husband by the alternative method of "I'm sorry that you're upset" or "I'm sorry you feel that way," which is basically a way to say "I'm not actually sorry for what I said/did and wouldn't change my actions but it's too bad you don't see that I am right and are allowing yourself to be upset because now your reaction is annoying me so please get over yourself." It absolves the apologizer of accountability.

When my kids do this, I call them on it. When someone else does this, if it's someone I'm close to or something important, I gently call them out on it to resolve the issue. If it's someone I'm not close to and/or it doesn't matter, I just see it as a way to tell the person's true colors and don't say anything.

So depending on who the person is to you, you might want to point it out in case it's just a bad habit and let her know that it comes across as an insincere justification instead of an apology.

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answers from College Station on

I recently read Gary Chapman's book "Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married" (I'm pretty sure that's the exact title) and the subject of asking for forgiveness comes up (chapter 4 and/or 6).

People apologize in different ways -- usually what they grew up with seeing how to make an apology.

Even with these different ways, each of us has a preferred way of wanting to hear the apology. For instance, my husband wants to hear that I'm truly sorry (sincere) while I prefer to hear how that person might make amends. So my husband telling me "Oh, I'm _so sorry_" irks me a bit though I'm getting used to it. Then when I tell my husband "Gosh, I'm sorry. Let me replace that (clean that up, etc). I may even ask "how can I make this up to you?" (the word "this" being _my_ mistake!).

You hear an excuse and she may be trying "to explain her actions". Maybe have a conversation about "do you know what your apology sounds like?" It doesn't sound like an apology. If she doesn't know what the heck you are talking about, drop it and figure she isn't going to change.

Good luck.

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answers from Austin on

I have a tendency to do this and my husband constantly tells me I am justifying my actions. I have also notice in me, and other people that have done this it is a way to shift blame.


answers from Los Angeles on

IF this is a friend you care about, then I would just chalk it up to her personality. You chose to have her as your friend for reasons other than this I hope, and I'm thinking you need to be more accepting...this is HER nature. When she wrongs you, it is at least on her conscience enough to warrant an apology. She could all together not say anything. I know it may be irritating, but whether you agree with it or not it, this is her individual style that you shouldn't want to change.



answers from Houston on

It seems to me this person needs to on up to what he/she has done and stop placing the blame on others. Those are cheap shots and easy way outs to cover for what has been done by him/her in my opinion.



answers from San Francisco on

Its nothing to do with psychology, but any apology followed by a but, is not an apology--its an excuse. They are saying this because they want to manipulate you into thinking they are apologizeing. But their not sorry! They will continue the behavior and defend it till they are blue in the face. Its all a game to them.

The only way you can change it is to tell them to their face that you don't accept apologies with buts attached. If they want to apologize, it better be real and better be from the heart.


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