How to say sorry in Italian: mi dispiace vs. scusa

5th August 2018

Scusa! Mi dispiace! Learn the difference between these expressions (and which one to use if you accidentally burp) in this episode of 5 Minute Italian.


Listen to the episode

Can you remember how to say "sorry" in Italian?

Last week, we learnt the phrase mi dispiace. 

But it turns out, there's another way to say sorry in Italian, which requires a bit of explanation because there's a crazy rule you'll need to follow in order to use it correctly.

In this week's lesson, find out the difference between "mi dispiace" and "scusa", and learn how to use them correctly, so you can say sorry like an Italian.

Remember what you learnt!

To help you remember the words and phrases from today's lesson, you'll find bonus materials below including a word list, quiz and flashcards. But first...

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Bonus Materials

Remember and practice using what you learnt with the bonus materials for today's episode.

Today's Italian words

Quando dici "scusa"? = When do you say "excuse me"?

Quando = when

Dici = you say

Scusa = sorry or excuse me

Quando spingo qualcuno per sbaglio = when I push someone by accident

Quando = when

Spingo = I push

Qualcuno = someone

Per sbaglio = by accident

Oppure se faccio un rutto = or if I do a burp

Oppure = or

Se = if

Faccio = I do/make

Un rutto = a burp

Take the Quiz!

How much did you learn? Find out in the 5-minute Italian quiz!

Click here to take the quiz for this episode: #48: How to say sorry in Italian: mi dispiace vs. scusa

Italian flashcards

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Please note, this is not a word for word transcript.

Katie: Ciao a tutti e benvenuti a 5 Minute Italian, I’m Katie.

Matteo: And I’m Matteo.

K: Last week, we learnt how to say sorry in Italian. Can you remember how?

M: Mi dispiace.

K:  In today's lesson, we'll continue the conversation, so you can learn another way to say sorry in Italian.

M: First, ascoltiamo la conversazione, let's listen to the conversation, then we'll go through it step by step.

K: Matteo, quando dici "mi dispiace" di solito?

M: Quando non ho moneta. Oppure quando qualcuno mi racconta un accaduto triste.

K:  Quando dici "scusa"?

M: Quando spingo qualcuno per sbaglio. Oppure se faccio un rutto.

K: So we continued with the conversation from last week, where Matteo explained that he says mi dispiace when he doesn't have change, or to express sympathy for someone. Then, I asked:

M: Quando dici "scusa"?

K: When do you say scusa?


  • Quando = when
  • Dici = you say
  • Scusa = sorry or excuse me

K: He answered: 

M: Quando spingo qualcuno per sbaglio. 

K: When I push someone by accident.


  • Quando = when
  • Spingo = I push
  • Qualcuno = someone
  • Per sbaglio = by accident

K: As well as mi dispiace, Italians have another word for sorry, which is scusa. What's the difference?

M: In many situations, they're interchangeable. But there are a few situations where they're not.

K: For example, if you push someone, bump into someone, or step on their toe, Italians use scusa. It's like a "knee-jerk" version of sorry. That word that quickly pops out of your mouth when you get in someone's personal space, and you're like "oops sorry!"

M: Yep, we'd normally use scusa, not mi dispiace in those kinds of situations. However, in longer situations, you can use mi dispiace and scusa interchangeably.

K: Using the example from last week, if your friend asks you if there's any coffee in the pot but you've already drunk it all, you can either say:

M: scusa. 

K: or

M: mi dispiace. 

K: But there's another situation where you'd only use scusa. Let's listen to the other example Matteo gave.

M: Oppure se faccio un rutto

K: Oppure se faccio un rutto = "or if I do a burp". A lovely example, which, school-boy humour aside, shows another important meaning of the word scusa. 

M: In Italian, scusa has 2 meanings. The first is an apology, for example, if you stand on someone's toe, or you "accidentally" eat the last biscuit.

K: And the second is "excuse me". Which you might say, for example, after you do a burp:

M: Scusa

K: Or if you want to get someone's attention, maybe to ask directions, or to ask for the bill:

M: Scusa

K: Interestingly, when my Italian students want to grab my attention, they often put their hand up and say sorry, because being as Italian only has one word for "sorry" and "excuse me", they get confused about when to use which.

So if you want to say either "sorry" or "excuse me" in Italian, you can say "scusa". Now comes the tricky bit. There are actually 3 versions of the word "scusa".

M: "Scusa" is the informal version, that you can use when speaking to friends, or young-ish people in relaxed social situations

K: With older people, or in more formal situations such as at the hotel reception or in a fancy restaurant, you can use the formal version, scusi. 

M: Finally, if you're speaking to a group of people, we use the "plural" you: Scusate. 

K: This drove me mad when I first moved to Italy, because scusa is the quick sorry, the word you use if you bump into someone or stand on their toe. And I thought, how am I supposed to decide if it's a young person, an older person or a group, and pick the right version, all in the split second after I've stood on their toe? It took me a lot of practice before I got it right.

M: But in reality, as long as you make an effort to say scusa, scusi, or scusate, most people will understand that you're learning and they won't mind if you use the wrong one.

K: And with practice, it becomes automatic over time.

K: Finally, sometimes you may hear the word: scusami, which is the same as scusa, it just adds emphasis. For example, if someone finishes off the last biscotto, you might hear a nice, long drawn out:

M: Scusami!

K: That’s it from us, remember that when it comes to languages, practice makes perfect, so to practice what you learnt today, you can find bonus materials like a quiz and flashcards by heading over to our website - www.joyoflanguages/italianpodcast and scrolling down to this episode. Alternatively, click on the link in the show notes to go straight there. And remember, if you'd like to get these lessons delivered to your inbox and get invites to free speaking workshops, sign up to the mailing list, you'll also find that link in the show notes. 

Ciao for now, or as we say in Italian.

M: Alla prossima!

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