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What are the differences between the following sentences with 'sorry':

  1. I'm sorry for disturbing you.

  2. I'm sorry to disturb you.

  3. I'm sorry to have disturbed you.

  4. I'm sorry that I disturbed you.

  5. I'm sorry that I have disturbed you.

Suppose: I've recently disturbed someone unknowingly, or I've realized that I'm disturbing someone, or I disturbed someone in the past and now realized my mistake. How should I apologize for my mistake? I also want to know which sentence is appropriate in which situation?

  • 3
    1 & 2 are appropriate at the beginning of knowingly disturbing them, e.g. to ask them a question. 3 is appropriate at the end of the same situation. 4 could be used some time after the event, e.g. "I'm sorry that I disturbed you earlier.". 5 is similar to 3 and (to me) sounds a little bit over-doing the apologies. – TrevorD Jun 2 '16 at 9:57
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    Just adding to TrevorD's comment. In BrE, #3 can also be the first thing you say when you disturb the person. – Lawrence Jun 2 '16 at 10:18
  • @TrevorD has captured the nuances of this question, 5 is certainly awkward; though without context it is impossible to say if this is from embarrassment or or as he suggests obsequiousness. – Hugh Jun 2 '16 at 10:19
  • 1
    You can use #1 after disturbing someone as well. – Max Williams Jun 2 '16 at 10:20
  • @Lawrence Even tho' No. 3 is past tense? It doesn't seem quite appropriate if you disturbed them only 1 second previously. – TrevorD Jun 2 '16 at 21:08
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sorry for

apology/regret (for both past and immediate actions)

sorry to

regret

it is better to use sorry to for immediate actions

in your case,
sorry for disturbing you - you are apologizing for what you did a while ago (you can even add an adverb of time eg 'sorry for disturbing you earlier')
but
sorry to disturb you - eg you now want to pass some important information to your boss but he is currently busy, you knock on the door and say 'sorry to disturb you but...'
sadness eg 'I'm sorry to hear that you've been ill'

sorry that

regret/sadness

I'm sorry to have disturbed you

use it to end your conversation if you disturbed somebody while they were working.

As to I'm sorry that I disturbed you & I'm sorry that I have disturbed you
I've never used this and never heard someone using it.
Sometimes I've used I'm sorry if I disturbed you which to me is the same as I'm sorry to have disturbed you.

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  • Why is it "better to use sorry to for immediate actions"? I have frequently heard & used "I'm sorry that I [have] disturbed you". – TrevorD Jun 2 '16 at 23:05
  • I'm surprized to see that there's the down vote on my question instead of up vote. Is it bad question to ask ? If not, why down vote? – yubraj Jun 3 '16 at 3:17

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