Sorry & Excuse me in Spanish – Disculpe, Perdón, Lo Siento

Disculpe, Perdón and Lo siento are the Spanish words that we use when we want to say ‘sorry’, ‘pardon’ or ‘excuse me’. However, the fact that these phrases share the same or similar translations doesn’t mean that we use them interchangeably. As is the case with many other Spanish words, lo siento, perdón and disculpe have some nuances in meaning that make them unique and applicable for certain situations. Fun, right?  

What’s the difference between ‘disculpe’, ‘perdón’ and ‘lo siento’ in Spanish? Lo siento is the direct translation of ‘I’m sorry’. We use it to express regret or condolences. Disculpe and Perdón mean ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon’. However, disculpe is more formal. Perdón can also be used to apologize. 

As you can see, these words aren’t exact synonyms because their meanings are slightly different. Using one instead of the other won’t prevent other Spanish speakers from understanding you. However, it won’t help you sound natural and fluent in Spanish, and it can mislead people from your real intentions. 

For these reasons, in this article we’ll help you understand the difference between disculpe, perdón and lo siento. We’ll show you the particular situations where you need to apply each one of these words and we’ll provide you with real examples that you can relate to. By the end of it, you will never confuse perdón, lo siento and disculpe again. 

What’s the difference between disculpe, perdón and lo siento?

As mentioned before, ‘disculpe’, ‘perdón’ and ‘lo siento’ are different words that we use in Spanish when we want to say ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’. However, these Spanish expressions don’t have the same meaning or intention and, as a result, we use them in different situations. 

We use disculpe when we want to get someone’s attention or interrupt when that person is in the middle of something else. As a result, disculpe is translated as ‘excuse me’. 

Disculpe, ¿qué precio tiene esta camisa?
Excuse me, how much is this t-shirt?

Disculpe, ¿cómo llego al centro?
Excuse me, how do I get to downtown? 

Perdón is used as a way to apologize. However, we only use it for small apologies. In this context, ‘perdón’ means ‘sorry’. 

Se me olvidaron tus llaves, perdón
I forgot your keys, sorry

Additionally, perdón can also be used as a synonym of ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon me’. In this case, we only use it when we’re interrupting the other person’s activities and still has an apologetic connotation. Unlike ‘disculpe’, perdón is slightly more informal.

Perdón, ¿dónde está la salida?
Excuse me, where is the exit?

Finally, lo siento is the direct translation of I’m sorry. Although in English these phrases are widely used, in Spanish, lo siento is only applied in very specific contexts. We use it in formal situations or when we want to apologize for something and we really mean it. 

Lo siento, no quería lastimarte
I’m sorry, I didn’t want to hurt you

Karina me dijo que tu papá murió, lo siento mucho
Karina told me that you that past away, I’m really sorry

In the following sections, we’ll talk individually about each one of these words. We’ll provide you with examples and we’ll discuss the specific situations where you need to use them. 

Disculpe in Spanish – How & When to Use it

As mentioned earlier, disculpe can be translated into English as ‘excuse me’. In Spanish, we use disculpe exclusively when we want to get people’s attention. Something that you need to keep in mind when it comes to this word is that it’s very formal. As a result, we’ll apply it if our conversation is taking place with an elder person or if we want to be polite with someone we don’t know. 

When and where can you use disculpe?

Since this word’s purpose is get someone else’s attention, we tend to use this word when:

  • Asking for directions on the streets or talking to strangers 
  • Shopping in grocery or retail stores 
  • Att a restaurant or coffee shop

Disculpe, ¿dónde está el museo?
Excuse me, where is the museum?

¡Disculpe! Creo que se le cayó su cartera
Excuse me! I think you dropped your wallet

Disculpe, joven, ¿qué llevan los tacos? 
Excuse me young man, what’s on the tacos?

As you may have noticed, disculpe is extremely useful when you’re at a restaurant. If you want to learn more expressions and phrases that you can use in this context, in this article, I’ll teach you how to order food in Spanish

It’s very likely that, at some point, you’ll hear disculpa instead of disculpe. These words are applied in the same contexts with the only difference that disculpa is used with people that seem to be your same age or younger than you.

Disculpa, ¿dónde está la parada?
Excuse me, where is the bus stop? 

So you can think of this difference as a matter of formality and respect with elders.

Disculpe as synonym of ‘sorry’

As you may have noticed, the previous examples with disculpe were pretty simple and short.. Although most of the time disculpe means ‘excuse me’, there are some instances where this word can also be translated as ‘sorry’. However, in order to have this meaning, ‘disculpe’ needs to work with more complex grammar structures. Here is how you do it:

Disculpe que + lo/la + interrumpa/moleste + [sentence]

Disculpe que la interrumpa, ¿podría decirme cómo llegar a este lugar?
I’m sorry to interrupt you, could you tell me how to get to this place?

Disculpa que lo moleste, ¿me puede decir dónde están los baños?
Sorry to bother you, could you tell me where the bathroom is?

These types of phrases are also very common in Spanish. However, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when using them:

  1. They’re extremely formal and polite. 
  2. We only use them when interrupting people. 
  3. We use lo when we’re addressing to a man and la when talking to a woman. 

Perdón vs Disculpe in Spanish 

We’ve already learned when and how to use ‘disculpe’ in Spanish. Now, it’s time to learn more about perdón. As mentioned before, this expression can be translated either as I’m sorry or Excuse me, depending on the context. 

Although ‘perdón’ means ‘sorry’ (or ‘I’m sorry’), we usually apply it to small apologies. It’s very common to use it when we bump into someone or when doing something incorrectly. Here are some examples. 

¡Ay, perdón, no la vi!
Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you!

Perdón, se me olvidó tu suéter, te lo traigo mañana
I’m sorry, I forgot your sweater, I’ll bring it to you tomorrow

The fact that we use perdón for small things doesn’t mean that you cannot use it when asking forgiveness for something more important. You can also do it, but keep in mind that Spanish speakers use this word for small apologies too. 

Even though perdón means ‘excuse me’ and, in this context, it’s also used to get people’s attention. It is not an exact synonym of disculpe. In previous sections, we mentioned that disculpe is a formal and polite way to say ‘excuse me’. In this context, perdón is slightly more casual. 

Perdón, ¿cuánto cuesta esto?
Excuse me, how much is this?

Lo siento in Spanish – How & When to Use It 

When it comes about to lo siento there’s a big difference between this word and ‘disculpe’ and ‘perdón’. Lo siento is the direct translation of I’m sorry and, unlike ‘perdón’ and ‘disculpe’, we only use it in very specific contexts. 

This Spanish phrase is applied only in very formal situations or when you’re really sorry for something you did. In fact, it’s very common to use lo siento in funerals or when someone is going through a rough situation. You wouldn’t use perdón or disculpe in any of these contexts without sounding unnatural. 

De verdad lo siento mucho, no era mi intención lastimarte
I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you 

Lo siento mucho, cuentas conmigo para lo que sea
I’m very sorry, you can count on me for whatever you need

Although the main difference between ‘perdón’ and ‘disculpe’ is their degree of formality, when it comes to lo siento you need to be more careful. As we discussed before, this phrase is only used in very formal, special circumstances and applying it into an incorrect situation will make you sound unnatural (or more sorry than you actually are!).

Wrapping Up

In this article we learned that even though disculpe, perdón and lo siento are different Spanish expressions to say either excuse me or lo siento, we cannot use them in the same contexts or with the same intentions. 

  • We discussed that both perdón and disculpe are used to get someone’s attention and, as a result, they’re translated as ‘excuse me’. We learned that in this situation, disculpe is very formal and polite, and we use it with elder people, whereas perdón is more informal. 
  • Perdón can also mean ‘sorry’ or (I’m sorry’). In this case, Spanish speakers use ‘perdón’ with small apologies.  
  • Lo siento is the direct translation of I’m sorry’. In Spanish, this expression is very formal and meaningful, as a result, we use it when we’re really sorry for something we did or to express our condolences. 

Hopefully, now you feel confident about these words and you will be able to start applying them into your conversations properly. 

Related Questions

What’s the difference between disculpe and con permiso? Both disculpe and con permiso are translated as ‘excuse me’. However, disculpe is used to get people’s attention whereas con permiso is only used when you’re on the street or in the middle of a crowd and you want to ask people to let you pass.

Disculpe, ¿dónde están los baños?
Excuse me, where is the bathroom?

(passing by someone who is in your way)

Con permiso 
Excuse me

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I've been studying Spanish professionally as well as teaching it in Mexico and online for over 10 years. I’ve taught Spanish to a wide array of foreigners from many backgrounds. Over the years, I've made it my mission to work hard on refining many challenging to understand grammar topics to make my students' learning experiences easier, faster and more enjoyable. Read More About Me

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