(#39) Excuse me / 不好意思

Today I’m introducing a set phrase.

It may not enough to know how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ when you are beginning to learn a new language, knowing how to say ‘excuse me’ will come in handy.

When you want to say ‘excuse me’ you say 不好意思 bu4 hao3 yi4 si4.

If you want to pass and someone is blocking your path, you can say 不好意思,请借过 bu4 hao3 yi4 si4, qing3 jie4 guo4 Excuse me, please let me pass.

If you did something slightly wrong, like bumping into someone on the road, you can choose to say excuse me instead of sorry. In this case, it is perfectly well to say 不好意思.

But of course the degree of seriousness is decided by you isn’t it, if you ate ALL the cake I bought, I might want to strangle you, but you might feel only slightly apologetic and only say 不好意思 too. But I can feel you are not that sincere since you didn’t say 对不起 dui4 bu4 qi3 instead.

The broken-down meaning of 不好意思 explained below. It is a little confusing, so as the irresponsible teacher I am, I’ll say, leave it for another time if you want to, not knowing the broken-down meaning doesn’t hurt anyone in this case.

Combined, it means ‘not having a good feeling’, but 意思 does not mean feeling. We should actually break it up into 不 and 好意思. 好意思, when used as this particular 3 character word, means ‘unashamed’. It is mostly a negative word, used when you want to be sarcastic.

You finished all my cake, you are really unashamed eh?

But when used with 不 to become 不好意思, it became a double negative. It basically means ‘not having a good feeling.

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