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Can I use about and for interchangeably? If not, when should I use either? Which is more common?

  • I'm sorry for/about yesterday.
  • I'm sorry for/about my bad English.
  • I'm sorry for/about that.
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  • I'd like to closevote this as a duplicate of sorry that I did something, sorry for doing something, or sorry to have done something?, but I can't because it has no upvoted or accepted answer. Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 20:53
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    @FumbleFingers It isn't quite the same question is it? The previous one did not have a 'I'm sorry about...' possibility, which makes it rather different I think.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 20:58
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    I posted this because this is a common question with lots of vague answers on the net. The url is appropriate for search engines.
    – PbxMan
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 20:59
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    In my own usage, I can say "I'm sorry about your folks' divorce" or "I'm sorry about yesterday." and without context, you wouldn't necessarily know whether or not I'm culpable for the thing for which I'm apologizing. Whereas "I'm sorry for yesterday." is saying, "I'm sorry for (causing the fight/confusion/spilled paint) yesterday." However, you can also say "I'm sorry for you because your pet goldfish died.", which I am not the cause. There are a number of idiomatic expressions that include "sorry". I'm not sure how to learn them all which is why this is a comment (albeit a lengthy one!) Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 21:08
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    It's essentially an English Language Learners question, which is probably why there was no interest in the previous incarnation. Historically, for was always by far the more common preposition, but obviously that's just a matter of established idiomatic preference - nothing to do with grammar or semantics as such. On ELL the short and sweet answer would probably just be "Use for in every case", but on ELU I expect it'll end up being a matter of [multiple, conflicting] opinions that won't help anyone who doesn't know what to use where. Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 21:08

1 Answer 1

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Given just those two option (there are others, such as 'I'm sorry that...) it depends on what you want to apologise for.

To take two extremes, if it is something very specific, like arriving late for an appointment, you might say 'I'm sorry for being late', or 'Sorry I'm late'. It would be unusual to say 'Sorry about being late'

If it is that you want to apologise more generally for some arrangements that have gone completely haywire, you might say 'I'm sorry about the shambles on Thursday'. You could also possibly say 'I'm sorry for the shambles on Thursday'. Using 'for' in this case does suggest very slightly your taking more responsibility for what happened than if you said 'Sorry about the shambles'. The latter could just mean that you are sorry it happened, but don't take too much responsibility.

So to sum up, it largely depends on two things, how specific the apology is (with 'for' being for the very specific), and how much responsibility you take (with 'for' implying greater personal responsibility).

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    And the third thing: whether you’re actually saying that you feel sorry for someone. “Sorry about your loss” just doesn’t feel quite right (though, surprisingly, Google gives several million hits—still, they pale in comparison to the more than 75 million hits “Sorry for your loss” gets). Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 22:12
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Yes. I think I usually say 'I was sorry to hear about your loss/death of your father/etc.' That makes it clearer that it was the news that made you sorry. Saying 'Sorry for the death of your father', suggests you may have run over him in your car.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 6:05
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    I was more thinking of the set phrase “Sorry for your loss”, which (to me, anyway) only works with for, despite the loss not being your fault or of your (un)doing. Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 13:48
  • But then again one may wonder what the difference is between "I am sorry for being late." and "I am sorry I am late.", if there is any...
    – user58319
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 5:29
  • @user58319 No difference at all.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 18:53

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