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An example that comes to mind would be

I'm sorry, I just don't agree with you. 

There are better examples which I can't remember at the moment.

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closed as off topic by Mitch, Robusto, RegDwigнt May 29 '11 at 16:14

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This seems to be a good question for a 'Miss Manners' style site (it's not particularly a language thing). –  Mitch May 29 '11 at 16:14
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I think there is much that could be said about this linguistically. The use of apologetic phrases as disjuncts indicating modality in English, for example, is sure to pop up in some linguistic treatise. –  Cerberus May 29 '11 at 17:02
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Besides @Cerberus’s point, another EL&U aspect: the word sorry can mean other things besides an apology — it can also be just an expression of regret, for instance, which is I think a helpful way to parse examples like the OP’s. –  PLL May 29 '11 at 20:17
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@nico: It is both, I think. The form of a linguistic utterance is usually best studied in conjunction with its content. Separating them is often a weakness. –  Cerberus May 29 '11 at 22:07
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Although it can be sarcasm, I believe that in most instances it reflects a subtle expression of compassion. Observing the "tone of voice" plays an important role in better understanding what is intended. –  Randolf Richardson May 30 '11 at 0:21

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