When you say the words “I’m sorry” to someone, you are apologizing to them.
That should be simple and straightforward, right? Of course, that isn’t the case when you are dealing with commas!
The good news about commas and “sorry” is that using the comma wrong rarely affects comprehension.
Knowing when “sorry” should be followed by a comma can be confusing, but there actually is a consistent rule. The rest of this post will help you identify when “sorry” needs to be followed by a comma.
Do you need a comma after “sorry”?
You need a comma after “sorry” when it is an introductory interjection in a sentence. You do not need a comma after “sorry” when it is an adjective followed by a subordinate clause. Otherwise, it generally follows normal comma rules that other adjectives would based on where it appears in sentences.
“Sorry” as an introductory interjection in a sentence
One of the most common occurrences of the word “sorry” is at the beginning of a sentence, where it often acts as an interjection.
Usually, this is in fairly informal circumstances when the thing that you are apologizing for is not that bad.
For example, maybe you are sitting in your living room watching TV when you hear your roommate come home, go in the kitchen and start rummaging around for a clean glass.
That’s the very moment when you realize that you should have washed them.
You might call from the living room, “Sorry, I forgot to wash the dishes!”
Here are a few other examples of how you might casually use “sorry” as an interjection:
So far, this probably looks pretty easy. However, “sorry” can also appear in sentences that look exactly like this but where it is an adjective followed by a subordinate clause.
Keep reading for how to tell the difference!
“Sorry” as an adjective followed by a subordinate clause
“Sorry” can also come before a subordinate clause. When this happens, it should not be followed by a comma.
A subordinate clause preceded by “sorry” often starts with the word “that”:
Sometimes, the “that” is left out of the subordinate clause and is understood instead:
I’m sorry I didn’t hear you calling me.
This can become confusing in informal writing or recording of informal speech, when sometimes the pronoun is left off and the sentence looks the same as when “sorry” is an interjection.
While this is technically nonstandard English, it is very common, and it is the way many people talk. Look at the difference in these two sentences:
How do you know when to place the comma and when to leave it off?
In the first example, where “sorry” is an introductory interrogative, the person is offering a direct apology followed by an explanation.
In the second example, the person is saying what they are apologizing for–that they didn’t hear the phone ringing.
In other words, the implication in the first sentence is “I am sorry I didn’t answer the phone, and here is the reason it happened.”
New information, the reason it happened, is being offered to the listener or reader.
The implication in the second sentence is that the person is apologizing for not hearing the phone.
There is no new information and this is not an explanation–the listener or reader knows that the person did not hear the phone.
If we put all the words back into the second sentence, it is easier to see:
Here’s another example:
In the above sentence the person is apologizing and explaining that they didn’t turn up because they weren’t able to (as opposed to because they forgot or didn’t want to).
In this version, without the comma, the person is apologizing but not giving new information. They are just saying they are sorry that they were not there.
Again, adding in words helps:
I’m sorry that I couldn’t make it last night.
It’s a subtle difference, and when you are writing, it may be best to stick to a more standard form to avoid confusion.
That would mean only starting the sentence with “sorry” when it is an introductory interjection.
However, you will probably see informal sentences that drop the “I’m” and the “that” in which “sorry” is an adjective and not an introductory interjection.
When you do, it can help to understand why there would not be a comma.
Other uses of “sorry”
It’s worth noting that you might encounter “sorry” used as an adjective in a few other ways in a sentence.
The good news is that when you do, it follows the comma rules that any other adjective would based on its placement in the sentence.
When it is just an adjective modifying the noun that follows it, like any other adjective, it should not be followed by a comma:
You might also encounter “sorry” as the last word of an independent clause that is joined to another independent clause with a conjunction. In that case, it should be followed by a comma, like any word at the end of an independent clause in the same position:
Maria was very sorry, and we told her she was forgiven.
The student said he wasn’t sorry, so the teacher gave him detention.
In a list of adjectives, “sorry” would usually be followed by a comma unless it was the last adjective in the list:
Finally, when you use “sorry” as an apology and follow it immediately with the name of the person or group of people you are apologizing to, it should have a comma after it:
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.