Sumimasen すみません in Japanese and Gomennasai ごめんなさい in Japanese are both a way to apologise and say “I’m sorry” for something in Japanese, so how are they different? Well my friends today we are going to be looking at the difference of the Japanese Sumimasen and Gomennasai.

First we need to look at and understand the main differences of each word so we will start by taking a look at Sumimasen すみません。

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“Sumimasen” vs “Gomennasai” The Battle Of The Apologies


Sumimasen is on of the most commonly used Japanese words and can mean both “excuse me” or “sorry” depending on the situation.

In English, if someone went out of there way to do something for you, like picking up a coin that you dropped, you would more than likely thank them. However, in Japan this is the perfect time to use すみませんSumimasen.

With Japan having a very respectful culture, it certainly shines through in the way that they use the language too. In the case of the dropped coin, were someone has gone out of their way to do something for you by picking it up, the first natural instinct of the Japanese is to apologise for causing any inconvenience to the other party rather than just saying thank you.


You could also use Sumimasen as a casual apology if you knock into someone in a busy train station or if you accidently grab the wrong bag on an airplane.

But Sumimasen is not just all about apologising, oh no! Sumimasen can be used exactly like the English “excuse me” to grab the attention of someone. For example, if you are in a restaurant or a bar and are looking to grab the attention of the server you would simply shout out Sumimasen. Shouting out is not considered rude in these types of scenarios like it would be in the western world. It is perfectly acceptable and is also a great feeling to blurt out a big Sumimasen across the crowd.

You should however restrain yourself from shouting this in every establishment you wonder into as some of the less traditional places, high end joints and chains may not adhere to the blurting out of Sumimasen and may adapt a more western style approach.

You could also use it if you want to grab the attention of someone in the street before asking for help / directions.


Gomennasai has no other connotations other than that of an apology, “sorry”. You should only use Gomennasai with people who are close to you as it has a certain personal feel to it. It is a little too personal to use towards your boss or other superiors.

People don’t tend to use Gomennasai in a business situation as this it calls for something much more formal such as ‘moushiwake arimasen’, which means ‘there is no excuse’.

With Gomennasai, albeit a serious and heartfelt apology, you can also remove “Nasai” and use “Gomen” for something with a little more light-hearted feel to it. If you are a little late for a friend’s party or are sleepy and want to leave the Karaoke you could say “Gomen”. 

It is certainly much better suited to those types of situations and adds a more casual vibe to the apology.

Sumimasen Vs Gomennasai

Sumimasen Vs Gomennasai
Sumimasen Vs Gomennasai

So learning about both Sumimasen and Gomennasai individually should have given you more of an insight into their differences. Now let’s have a quick look at this summary of Sumimasen and Gomennasai.

  • Sumimasen is much more formal than Gomennasai
  • You can use Gomennasai when you have done something inappropriate and Sumimasen    when you are asking someone to do something for you such as move out of the way.
  • Sumimasen is more along the lines of “excuse me” or “pardon me” and Gomennasai is more along the lines of “sorry”

Side notes –Sumimasen and Gomennasai

Much like Gomennasai is shortened to Gomen to make a more informal apology, Sumimasen also has an informal counterpart in the word “Sumanai”

Sumanai is usually used by younger males towards their friends and is considered informal.

Sumimasen is also often shorted to “Suimasen” by many Japanese natives as they don’t enunciate the M. It’s kind of the lazy way to say it as it’s a bit quicker and easier to say for some people.   

So everyone those are the main differences between Sumimasen and Gomennasai. Sumimasen is closer to excuse me and can be used in more formal situations. Gomennasai is more personal and expresses your regret for doing something inappropriate. Both Sumimasen and Gomennasai can be shortened down to their informal counterparts, Gomen and Sumanai.

Thanks for reading today’s online Japanese lesson guys, I hope you know understand more about the differences between Sumimasen and Gomennasai. 


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