An interesting discussion came up in the chat following a sentence I suggested in another question where I said something along the lines of "I apologise that I have a prior commitment." or "I apologise that I will be unavailable this evening."

To my eye and ear, this is a perfectly valid construction, where "I apologise" has almost the same meaning as "I'm sorry" and can therefore be used in place of it, but general consensus is that I'm incorrect and this is ungrammatical or at least incredibly rare.

Now I understand the subtle difference between the definitions of "sorry" and "apology":

Sorry—feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.: to be sorry to leave one’s friends; to be sorry for a remark; to be sorry for someone in trouble.

Apology—a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another: He demanded an apology from me for calling him a crook.

so I'm really only asking in the context that the apology is for failing or otherwise inconveniencing someone (as having a prior commitment might).

The ngram and COCA results do indeed point to this as a highly irregular use, but there are enough results that I can argue its validity even though it's clearly less common than "apologi(s|z)e for" and I'm really curious as to whether anyone else considers this valid, has heard/seen it used, or can confirm whether this is possibly a dialectal or regional quirk. Or maybe I'm just completely wrong and should stop saying I apologise that things.


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  • I think you can say "I apologize that I (may have) offended you" as well as "I apologize for (maybe) offending you" Or " I apologize for having offended you". I need to check :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 31, 2016 at 11:00
  • "I apologize that I" on Google books gives 7,590 hits.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 31, 2016 at 11:03
  • @Mari-LouA woah, those are indeed many. Interestingly, one of them is explaining precisely why, in the author's opinion, I apologize that is wrong.
    – terdon
    Mar 31, 2016 at 11:11
  • It seems a bit more natural to use that for things you couldn't do. I apologize that I couldn't be there - I was in New York. This seems to be a tepid use of apologize. It is being used more as a synonym of regret, and seems to be somewhat reportative as opposed to performative. Perhaps it has become a marker for the self-exculpatory apology.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 31, 2016 at 19:03
  • "I'm sorry and I apologize are the same, unless you're at a funeral" -Demitri Martin
    – Evan M
    Mar 31, 2016 at 21:37

2 Answers 2


From Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology by Edwin L. Battistella

That versus If

It is also possible to use a noun clause as the direct object of apologize. There are two main types. One begins with the word that and introduces a presumed fact (grammarians call it a factive clause). Someone might say, "I apologize that I have not gotten back to you yet," or "I apologize that I have not written in so long."

In such sentences, the subjects of the two clauses are the same (The repeated pronoun I). The subjects of the two clauses can also differ, as in "I apologize that the exams are not graded yet, " or "We apologize that you were unable to use your card due to the renewable date." In these examples, grammar obscures the cause of the harm. In the first, the passive clause the exams are not graded yet hides the agent of the non-grading. In the second, were unable (a predicative adjective) and due to (an instrumental preposition) suppress the agency as well. It would be a different message to say "We apologize that we deactivated your card."

The author then provides a solid example uttered by the Republican ex- candidate Mike Huckabee who apologized after he joked that an unexpected offstage noise was Democrat Barack Obama looking to avoid a gunman.

"I made an offhand remark that was in no way intended to offend or disparage Sen. Obama. I apologize that my comments were offensive, that was never my intention.

  • Hmm, interesting. Definitely shows that I'm not the only one who uses this construct, so that's one of my questions resolved. I'm also satisfied that in the case of my example, since "I will be unavailable" is an unambiguous statement and doesn't necessitate blame, there's nothing wrong with my sentence as written as it conveys the same sentiment as using "sorry" would have. I'll take this as the accepted answer when I finish work unless someone gives me something better in the meantime. Mar 31, 2016 at 11:41
  • Seeing as this is a question on grammar and usage, and seeing as I limited my answer to citing a clear excerpt explaining how "subject + apologize + that " can be and is used in daily life. Can the downvoter please post his answer explaining why this structure is incorrect? I presume that is the reason for the unmotivated (and cowardly) downvote. Because no one can say the answer is unclear or not useful.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 31, 2016 at 12:01
  • Looks like a random drive-by to me, I can see absolutely no reason why anyone would legitimately downvote this. Mar 31, 2016 at 12:02
  • +1 for a clear and informative answer. Confusion over usage may result from recent changes in informal/spoken English not yet being incorporated into the reference literature? Mar 31, 2016 at 13:12

I must say, two years late, that despite Mari-Lou A's fine citation and the general consensus, I, personally, am still not comfortable with the usages given in the original post.

"I apologise that I have a prior commitment."

"I apologise that I will be unavailable this evening."

I agree that "I apologize I", or the other cases given in the first Battistella article cited by Mari-Lou A are okay, but I think

I apologize that my comments were offensive, that was never my intention.

is politician speak to avoid responsibility. He is specifically trying to sound as if he were saying "I am sorry I...", but then sneaking out of it by switching to a use of that. So in fact, it is the rule/example that proves the exception. If it were to be taken seriously, it would mean he is saying that he is apologizing for some kind of state of affairs he had no responsibility for. I apologize that the sun is shining. I apologize for having teeth. Meaningless, risible even, as an apology. One apologizes for doing something. One regrets that something is the case. To show the cases are not parallel, note what happens if we make this slight change:

"I apologise, but I have a prior commitment."

"I apologise, but I will be unavailable this evening."

"I apologize, but my comments were offensive."

Likewise, imagine:

"I apologize for having a prior commitment"

sounds strange. "I have a prior commitment" is not something one can apologize for..."having made a prior commitment" is closer perhaps, but even that doesn't work because, since the commitment is prior, one can't be responsible for it. If I made the commitment knowing I shouldn't have, that I can apologize for, but I am blameless if I don't have reason not to make the commitment and do so, even if after the fact it turns out to have been regrettable.

I apologise that I will be unavailable this evening.

is less offensive, perhaps, but I think still falls, since "I apologize for being unavailable" again seems to not be something one can apologize for, since "being" suggests what one cannot change. "I apologize for being smarter than you. I can't help it. I am built that way." Sounds like a comedy routine, not an apology.

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