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The most common phrase in german phrase book for apology would be es tut mir leid or tut mir leid to mean "it does me suffering".

From the questions on the difference between "entschuldigen" or "Entschuldigung"

it remains unclear when to use which.

How do you use apology towards specific situations? e.g. "I am sorry for my late reply." in emails or "I am sorry, the person you've just asked for is not available"

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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Both Entschuldigung (which is a noun; it is an abbreviated form of ich bitte um Entschuldigung) and entschuldigen Sie can be used in a similar way to es tut mir leid; unlike it, they can also be used when interrupting someone:

Excuse me, what time is it?

Entschuldigung, wie spät ist es?

(Es tut mir leid, wenn ich störe, aber ... is also possible.)

I'd express your example sentences like this:

Es tut mir leid, dass ich mich so spät melde.

Bitte entschuldigen Sie, dass ich mich jetzt erst melde.

Frau Meier ist derzeit leider nicht im Hause.

Leider is another way to say that you are sorry. It is only suitable for a minor inconvenience.

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I'd add that Es tut mir Leid is more personal (i.e. used if someone passed away) and used to express your own grief over something (=> I'm sorry) while Entschuldigen Sie bitte is used if you seek the acknowledgment of the other (=> Please excuse my action). –  Uuigant Jun 17 '13 at 8:47
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I'd group the German examples in three categories: a) when you are in some (even minor) way responsible. Then phrases involving the word "Entschuldigung" and its derivates are appropriate, along with "es tut mir leid". b) when you're not responsible (i.e. when you could substitute "I'm afraid" for "I'm sorry" in English). Then "es tut mir leid" and "leider" are appropriate. c) when you're interrupting someone or asking for something. Then you can only use "Entschuldigung" and its derivates. –  Mac Jun 17 '13 at 12:00
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If you're not trying to be formal, saying "sorry" or "entschuldigung" is just fine. I use sorry in most situations even though german is my mother tongue.

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I'm sorry ===> Es tut mir leid


Sorry ===> Entschuldigung / Verzeihung


Excuse me please ===> Entschuldigen Sie bitte / Verzeihen Sie mir bitte

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Add-on: Verzeihen Sie / Verzeihung is antiquated, sounds very courtly. Furthermore, only use Es tut mir leid as I'm sorry but never use it as Excuse me. –  falkb Jun 17 '13 at 13:36
    
@falkb correct addition. Verzeihung / Verzeihen Sie is in fact antiquated, but still in use sometimes. So thought I will use it also in my answer in case if someone listen these words, he or she will know about the correct meaning. –  user2238 Jun 17 '13 at 13:55
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I would add:

"Es tut mir Leid" is used when you're sorry about a situation you didn't cause.

"Entschuldigung" is more appropriate if you're apologizing for your own actions.

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Welcome to German Language and Usage Beta! Please try not to repeat information from other answers. If you agree with an existing answer, the proper way to show that you support the idea is by upvoting. If you are still unable, invest time in the site to reach the privileges. –  c.p. Jun 21 '13 at 9:51
    
This answer is wrong anyway. –  user2238 Jul 1 '13 at 0:45
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Actually, "Es tut mir leid" and also "Entschuldigung" are both replacing the old "Verzeihen Sie mir / Verzeihung". "Verzeihung" is/was strictly used to apologize for your own actions. "Es tut mir leid" is in fact also used to apologize for your own actions, however, the cause for the apology is then more serious (it comes close to the more formal "Ich entschuldige mich" then). "Entschuldigung" (or also "’tschuldigung" in modern slang) is appropriate in the daily routine.

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