Hokkien: How Do You Say “Sorry”

by | Apr 4, 2019 | Hokkien, Hokkien - How Do You Say

Listen to Podcast | Hokkien: How Do You Say “Sorry”

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New Words

EnglishHokkienOur Romanization
Dui mm zu / Sor li
Embarrassed / Shy / Excuse me歹势
Pai seh

Podcast Transcript | Hokkien: How Do You Say “Sorry”

Hi there! My name is Eugene and welcome to our Hokkien – How Do You Say Podcast on In your daily conversations, how often do you have to apologize? For me, I apologize all the time as I am rather clumsy, often knocking things over. As such, knowing how to say sorry is rather important for me.

In Hokkien, we express sorry as 对唔住. For example, 对唔住, 我无买你要食的福建面 which translates into “Sorry, I did not buy the Hokkien noodles that you wanted”. I would say 对唔住 generally represents a more serious manner of apology. If the situation is not too serious, you can use 歹势 to express your apology. For example, 歹势, 我无Facebook. By saying 歹势, you convey a sense of embarrassment or shyness too. Or to admit that I’m wrong, I would say – 歹势, 我 sa la了. “Sa la” is actually a loan word from Malay that Hokkiens often use to represent being wrong.

Typically, I would use 歹势 together with 请问, especially when I am asking for directions. For example, 歹势, 请问你MRT怎么行? You’ll find that in such context, 歹势 translates better as “excuse me”.

Last but not least, you can also use the exact English word “Sorry” to express your apology, but with a slight tweak in pronunciation. Local Hokkiens in Singapore have adapted the usage of “Sorry” and pronounce it as “Sor li”. So you can say – Sor li, 我无买你要食的福建面.

Once again, apologies are expressed by Hokkien people via:

歹势; and

Hope you find the varying degrees and ways of apologizing in Hokkien useful. Feel free to share with us your thoughts by leaving us a comment. I’m Eugene from See you the next week!

Love what you are reading? We’ve got lots more to share during our Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese express workshops. Join us to pick up words and phrases for everyday use in Singapore. More importantly, you can help to keep these languages alive!

Our Philosophy for Learning Hokkien in Singapore

The pronunciation of Hokkien words varies from one region to another. For example, Penang Hokkien sounds different from Taiwanese Hokkien. At, we want to make learning Hokkien fun, easy and practical for daily conversations in Singapore. As such, we think it is important to listen to how Singaporeans speak Hokkien. To do that, we have an ongoing process of collecting audio recordings from at least 100 Hokkien-speaking seniors in Singapore and thereafter based our audio pronunciation on the most commonly-heard version.

In similar nature, rather than trying to figure out which Hokkien romanization system to use (e.g. Pe̍h-ōe-jī or Taiwan Romanization System), we encourage you to form your own phonics, so that you make an association with these Hokkien words in the quickest way possible. To illustrate, the formal romanization of the English word, “eat”, is “chia̍h” in Hokkien. However, in our “Have You Eaten” podcast transcript, you’ll find that we use “jiak”, which we think relates to us better. That said, you may use other romanization (e.g “chiah”, “jia”, etc), as long as it helps you to make sense of what you hear.


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