I have commonly heard 'es tut mir leid'. Can I also say: 'ich tut mir leid' instead of 'es tut mir leid'?

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    Is there anything particular that you would like to express by saying that? Are you asking if it is correct and the same as "es tut mir leid" (spoiler alert: no), or are you trying to express something different?
    – HalvarF
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 13:33
  • No, at least not that way - you'd have to konjugate the verb appropriately to the subject. But what are you trying to express? The German sentences is grammatically equivalent to the English sentence "somebody/something has my sorry / condolences / begging for forgiveness" (yes, it's bad English in this form). Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 15:50
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    It is like saying: "I does hurt me" instead of "it does hurt me". Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 16:49
  • Also worth pointing out that it would make more sense to have "Leid" capitalized, which it historically was, since it's a noun. But along the ravages of time the somewhat melodramatic "Es tut mir Leid" ("It does me grief") turned from an expression of having been literally harmed into an expression of being figuratively harmed and eventually degraded into a common phrase to show mere sympathy.
    – Ocean
    Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 9:56
  • @Ocean According to Wiktionary, leid here is originally (and prescriptively still) an adjective which has sometimes been reinterpreted as a noun (easily done, since they’re identical in form and both make grammatical sense here). The adjective is now obsolete outside of a few fixed expressions such as leidtun (and its comparative form leider has become completely fixed as an adverb), but es tut mir leid is in origin roughly the causative equivalent to ich bin es leid (although their meanings have drifted farther apart over time). Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 22:43

4 Answers 4


You should know that "es tut mir leid" is a kind of formula whose phrasing is fixed. (Languages tend to have many such "fixed phrases".) For example German grammar allows the word order to be changed: "mir tut es leid", "leid tut es mir", but I'm pretty sure no one ever uses those versions and they'd just sound wrong. The English translation is "I'm sorry" but that has nothing to do with the literal meaning if you break it down word for word. I'd render it as "It does sorrow to me" which sounds very odd in English, but changes in phrasing are very common when you translate between languages. There are many examples where German uses the dative case to mean something that would be the subject in English. This is one, but there are others such as "Mir ist heiß." = "I'm hot." But the literal translation might go "(It) is hot to me." Also "Wie geht es dir?" = "How are you?". This time the literal translation is "How does it go to you?"

As pointed out above, the subject in "es tut mir leid" is "es". This means "it" in English and refers to the circumstances with which both the speaker and the listener are familiar. The "it" isn't even mentioned in "I'm sorry" and it's more or less just a placeholder in German. Regardless, the verb must be conjugated according to the subject and "es" takes the third person singular. Changing the "es" to "ich" would mean changing the conjugation to first person singular: "ich tue mir leid." But it would be difficult to imagine what it would mean (something like "I apologize for myself" or "I'm sorry for being me") or a circumstance where it would be used. It reminds me of Noam Chomsky's example "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," which is grammatically correct but meaningless. (DeepL translates this as "Farblose grüne Ideen schlafen wütend." I'm not sure "wütend" is the right adverb here but since the sentence makes no sense anyway I guess it's not important.)

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    I think "mir tut es leid" is also commonly used. Leid tut es mir though is probably at most found in poetry. Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 11:07
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    As other have answered, "Ich tue mir leid" does not mean to apologize for yourself, but to feel sorry about yourself. You can also feel sorry on someone else's behalf. ie. Du tust mir leid (I feel sorry for you). Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 11:08
  • @infinitezero - Thanks for the clarification; I thought that would use "bemitleiden" or perhaps "bedauern". In any case it's not the same as the "I'm sorry" meaning.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 20:42

The dative object of "leidtun" is the person who feels sorry.

The subject is the thing that the person feels sorry about.

The verb is conjugated according to the subject, like in all other sentences.

So the answer is no, this doesn't make sense. As others have written, "ich tu(e) mir leid" = "I feel sorry for/about myself", but this is something else.


You can say “Ich tue mir leid” which means “I feel sorry for myself”.

“Tut mir leid” has two meanings: I apologise for something, which is “es tut mir leid” or just “tut mir leid”, or I feel sorry for someone’s misfortune, where you would use the appropriate pronoun. Ich tue mir leid, du tust mir leid, er/sie/es tut mir leid etc.

"Es tut mir leid" appears in this list twice, so it can mean either. "Auf der Skipiste bin ich mit einem Mädchen zusammengestossen, und jetzt hat sie ein gebrochenes Bein. Es tut mir leid." Either an apology for carelessness while skiing, or feeling sorry for the girl suffering with a broken leg. Could be either because Mädchen = es.

  • 1
    Nah, when saying you're sorry for the girl you should say "sie tut mir leid". Regardless of the word being neuter, the person is still female and known to be. (Same reason that you already wrote "jetzt hat sie ein gebrochenes Bein", not "jetzt hat es ein gebrochenes Bein".) Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 17:45
  • @leftaroundabout When you express sorrow about the accident, then "es tut mir leid" is absolutely correct. Not when referring to the girl ofc, but the sentence makes perfect sense using either "sie" (referring to the girl) or "es" (referring to the circumstances of the accident).
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 9:13
  • With "Mädchen" it is debatable whether to use "es" or "sie", but replacing "Mädchen" with "Kind" would make "Es tut mir leid." ambiguous as described. Of course then it would be "jetzt hat es ein gebrochenes Bein".
    – Bodo
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 18:06

Can I also say: 'ich tut mir leid' instead of 'es tut mir leid'?

In short: no, you can't.

The general form for "leidtun" (a Verb) is:

[Nominativ] tut [Dativ] leid

The Nomen in Nominativ describes what it is that causes the pity or for whom the pity is felt for. The Nomen in Dativ is the one feeling the pity. "Es" is used as a stand-in for something (or someone) unspecified.

That means, "es tut mir leid" is "I" ("mir" is the Dativ of "mein", the Possessivpronomen of Erste Person Singular, which stands in for "ich" here) am the one feeling the pity and I feel it either towards "es" or because of "es".

Consider the following:

Das Tier ist krank. Es tut mir leid.

Here, the "es" addresses the "Tier" from the previous sentence. The translation is "I pity it".

Es tut mir leid, daß die Katastrophe passiert ist.

Here, the "es" is the representation of the following Relativsatz. Nobody is addressed as the adressee of the feeling, but the reason why it is felt is given. The catastrophe happened and I am saddened because of that.

Ich tue mir leid.
Der A tut dem B leid.

You probably can guess already what that means: I pity myself and B feels sorry for A (or because of A).

Also notice, that german sentences are rather free in the order of certain parts. Possible is:

Mir tut es leid.

Which is the same as "es tut mir leid", but with emphasis on "mir", the one having the feeling. For instance, in this:

Mir tut es leid, ihm aber nicht.

This device is used to express that I feel sorry, but he doesn't.

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