I am hesitated when I use the sentence "forgive my fault, please." instead of "excuse me, please." because the word "forgive" has a religious theme and probably carries some additional meanings. Also it seems the usage of the word "forgive" for apologies depends on the social rank of the people in the conversation too.

Question: What are the differences between "excuse me" and "forgive me" in current and historical meanings and usage? Does the meanings of these phrases change when the social rank of audiences changes? Which one is more frequent among literate speakers?

  • I haven't heard of 'forgive' being dependant on the social rank of people in the conversation. I could ask a street-urchin for forgiveness if I step on his toes, or even a wealthy businessman. Perhaps you want to ask which is used more frequently by literate speakers? By the way, excuse and forgive may be used similarly, but their meaning isn't exactly the same. Nov 24, 2013 at 15:04
  • @mikhailcazi: Thanks for your guidance. I edited the question. Please explain more about the differences between the meanings of "excuse me" and "forgive me".
    – user57667
    Nov 24, 2013 at 15:26

2 Answers 2


While forgiveness is important to some religious views, I do not think it is particularly important in this case.

When you excuse someone, you allow them to escape the consequences of their actions.

When you forgive someone, you cease resenting those actions.

One can forgive someone in your heart, while still holding that they must be punished or not relieved of misfortunes their actions brought upon them. One can excuse someone, but still resent them.

In the overlap, one is often taken to include the other, because the two do often happen together.

It's also more likely to speak of excusing an action that did not have any volition, such as an accident or eructation, and forgive of a deliberate action that led to some harm whether that harm could be foreseen or not. It would not be unheard of for the other to be used.

There isn't really any social rank matter, bar different etiquette rules as to what things one should ask to be excused for. In particular, saying excuse me after breaking wind or burping was once a classic "non-U" identifier, that is an identifier of someone who was middle class trying to pass for upper class (the working class at the time might ask it, and might not, the middle class almost always would, while among the upper class the polite thing was for nobody to pass any comment on it). Such class markers are not as firm as once they were.


I believe excusing and forgiving are vastly different to each other and are only used interchangeably because of our misunderstanding of their true meanings. To ask to be excused for an action is to say there is an excuse, a valid reason why this thing happened no wrong was committed but merely an action that although regrettable doesn't need forgiveness. Forgiveness however is to the act of "forgiving" the inexcusable.

For example: If I were to walk up to you unprovoked and in malice stomp on your foot, that would be a wrong against you that I have no valid "excuse" for. That action wasn't excusable, but it is forgivable. Whether or not you can find it in your heart to forgive my malice is up to you.

It is also worth remembering (or realising for the first time) that to forgive someone should never rely on waiting for an apology. Most likely, if you find yourself having to receive an apology before you can forgive the person who wronged you you are actually waiting to see if they have a valid "excuse" the wrong committed. Of course, if they do have a valid excuse then it isn't forgiveness that is required but excusing. (I'd like to go much deeper here). To forgive is to say "this inexcusable thing that you've done, I will not hold against you or bring it up as ammunition in the future. We are as we were before it happened. "I forgive you."

Please read C.S.Lewis Essay on Forgiveness for a more concise overview on this.

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