In short – ‘disculpe’ and ‘perdón’ are the Spanish equivalents of ‘excuse me’ AND ‘sorry’. However, ‘disculpe’ is actually a conjugated verb and ‘perdón’ can also be a noun, so you’re sure to come across both being used in other ways!
Stick around to find out EXACTLY how to use these two Spanish words!
‘Disculpe’ and ‘perdón’ can be used interchangeably in the following ways –
1. As a synonym of ‘excuse me’.
Disculpe / perdón, ¿sabe dónde está la estación de metro más próxima? = Excuse me, do you know where the nearest subway station is?
2. As a synonym of ‘pardon me’.
Disculpe / perdón, no escucho lo que dice. = Pardon me, I can’t hear what you’re saying.
3. As a synonym of ‘forgive me’, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘sorry’.
Disculpe la demora. / Perdón por la demora. = Sorry to keep you waiting.
‘Disculpe’ is a verb conjugated in the formal “usted” form, so it can NEVER be used interchangeably with ‘perdón’ in informal speech.
The informal ‘tú’ form is ‘disculpa’ –
Disculpa, ¿podrías darme un aventón? = Excuse me, could you give me a ride?
‘Perdón’ is a noun as well, meaning ‘apology’, ‘pardon’ or ‘forgiveness’ –
Le escribí una carta pidiéndole perdón. = I wrote him a letter asking for his forgiveness.
‘Disculpe’ vs ‘perdón’
It´s important to note that ‘disculpe’ is actually a conjugation of the verb ‘disculpar’ (‘to forgive’ in English).
‘Disculpe’ is the 3rd person singular conjugation of ‘disculpar’ in the subjunctive mood (present tense).
So, it’s used when forming imperatives in the formal “usted” form –
Disculpe, señor, ¿sabe dónde queda la calle Hidalgo?
Excuse me, mister, do you know where Hidalgo Street is?
And, more generally, it’s also used when a subjunctive would normally be called for (i.e., when expressing desire, doubt, conjecture, or possibility in Spanish) –
Quisiera que disculpe mis transgresiones pasadas.
I would like you to forgive my past transgressions.
¡Espero disculpe mi atrevimiento!
I hope you’ll forgive my boldness!
So, when exactly can we use ‘disculpe’ and ‘perdón’ interchangeably?
Well, both can actually mean ‘excuse me’, ‘pardon’ and ‘sorry’.
Just remember that ‘disculpe’ is in the formal “usted” form, which we use when speaking to an authority figure, a stranger, an elder or anyone with whom we wanna be extra respectful.
Perdón, señora, no quise empujarla.
Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to push you.
Disculpe oficial, ¿todo bien*?
Excuse me, officer, is everything all right?
*Erika’s note – ‘¿Todo bien?’ can be BOTH a greeting and a question, to which you can respond in quite a few different ways.
The informal ‘you’ conjugation is ‘disculpa’ –
¡Perdón / disculpa, Joaco, se me olvidó traer el pastel de cumpleaños!
Sorry Joaco, I forgot to bring the birthday cake!
‘Perdón’ as a noun
In Spanish, ‘perdón’ isn’t just used as an interjection, but also as a noun, meaning ‘forgiveness’, ‘apology’ or ‘pardon’.
Le pedí perdón a mis papás.
I apologized (offered an apology) to my parents.
Le negaron el perdón y fue sentenciado a diez años en prisión.
He was denied a pardon and was sentenced to ten years in prison.
‘Disculpe’ doesn´t exist in the form of a noun, but ‘disculpa’ (yeah, exactly like the conjugation for the informal ‘you’!) means ‘apology’.
Martha – ¿De qué querías hablar?
Wen – Quiero ofrecerte una disculpa por mi actitud la otra noche…
Martha – What did you want to talk about?
Wen – I want to offer you an apology for my attitude the other night …
Expressions with ‘disculpe’ / ‘perdón’
Perdóneme / Discúlpeme
In Spanish it’s possible to whack a pronoun on the end of an imperative.
Such is the case with ‘perdóneme’ and ‘discúlpeme’ (second person formal), and ‘perdóname’ and ‘discúlpame’ (second person informal), all of which are synonyms of ‘excuse me’, ‘forgive me’ and ‘sorry’.
Just imagine that we squeeze together the verb and pronoun in ‘excuse me’ to form one word, ‘excuseme’, and you’ll get the idea perfectly.
Perdóname, no quería ser ofensivo.
Forgive me, I didn’t mean to be offensive.
Te pido perdón / Te pido una disculpa / Te pido disculpas
There are three main ways to apologize in Spanish. The simplest is:
- ‘Te pido perdón‘ (indirect pronoun + verb + noun)
However, you can also say:
- ‘Te pido una disculpa’, in which case you’ll need to whack an article before ‘disculpa’.
AND you can use the plural form of the noun as well:
- ‘Te pido disculpas’, in which case you wouldn’t need an article.
Although there’s nothing technically wrong with saying ‘te pido un perdón’ (added article), ‘te pido disculpa’ (no article) and ‘te pido unas disculpas’, in reality they’re NEVER used, and they sound weird to native Spanish-speakers.
Le voy a pedir perdón.
I’m gonna apologize to him.
Te pido una disculpa por mi actitud.
I owe you an apology for my attitude.
Te quiero pedir disculpas.
I wanna apologize.
So, there you have it: everything you need to know to master these two Spanish words. Next time you make a mistake, you’re sure to have the perfect apology at hand!
Oh, and if you wanna level up your Spanish vocabulary even more, head on over to our article on ‘me’ vs ‘mi’.