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I wanted to begin this blog about writing IELTS exam letters with the above quote to help those of you who struggle with apologies to see that there's a silver lining in the task.

There are two good reasons you should smile if you're given an apology letter on your General Training IELTS exam.

The first reason is that you'll be able to demonstrate that you can say sorry in written English.

The second is that you'll have a chance (even if imaginary) to admit a mistake, make amends and show that you know how to care for others. The former is good for your test score; the latter will make the world a better place.

It’s no secret that admitting we were wrong is uncomfortable. That’s why the apology letter might seem challenging. It’s simply because many of us don’t have a lot of experience doing it.

To provide some guidance, you will find sample letters in this blog that demonstrates how to say you are sorry in a formal business letter as well as a personal one.

First, take a moment to look over these two tasks. Think about what makes them the same and then what makes them different.

Dinner party

 You said you would attend a friend's dinner party but you did not go.   Write a letter to your friend.  In the letter:  - Apologize for not attending  - Explain why you did not attend  - Say what you will do to make up for it

Missed important work meeting

You missed an important meeting at work.  Write a letter to your manager.   In the letter:  - Apologize for not attending  - Explain why you did not attend  - Say what you will do to make up for it

Content differences

What should stand out to you is that the first letter is a personal situation where you've done something that offended a friend. Your relationship with that person is on the line, and you want to mend it because you value them in your everyday life.

In the second letter, something different is at stake, mainly your job and your relationship with the team of people you work with. You need to make this right because you value your paycheque and your reputation in the business world.

Both apologies are equally important and necessary and on the exam and you would address each of the three bullet points with the same vigour.

THE CONTENT or how you address these points is essential to note. Apologizing is not usually a light topic and so joking will not go over well in either case. Neither will anger or a complaint about the situation that may have led to your error.

Your job

In these two examples, your job is to:   

  1. Admit that something you did may have inconvenienced, hurt or offended another or others.

  2. Take responsibility for how or why it happened.

  3. Make amends.

If you focus on these three things, your letter will be effective, and your score will reflect that.


You'll also need to use the correct TONE in your letter.

TONE indicates your relationship with the person you're writing to and the seriousness of the topic you're addressing. Writing to someone at work usually requires more respectful language and phrasing than to a friend.

In regards to words specific to apology letters, some phrases are useful, and these can be modified to the level of formality you wish to use.

For example, “I’m sorry” would be more formally written as “I am sincerely sorry”.

Tone examples

Here are some sample phrases in different tones:

Less formal

More formal

I apologize for missing your party.

I wish to sincerely apologize for missing the meeting.

I regret that I couldn't make it.

I deeply regret that I was not in attendance.

Please accept my apology.

Please accept my sincerest apology.

I'm so sorry I was able to come.

I am very sorry that I was not able to come.

Sample responses

Dear Sandy,

I'm so sorry that I didn't make it to your dinner party. I know that you worked hard planning the get-together and that you were expecting me to be there with the others. I can't believe I missed it and I'm completely to blame.  Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with my phone's calendar. When I added the event, I accidentally set the date for the week ahead so I thought the party was next Friday. I know technology is supposed to make our lives easier but I'm the worst with it.  In fact, when you were trying to call me last night, I was sitting in the movie theatre with my smartphone shut off. Then I forgot to turn it on again and didn't get your messages until this morning when I powered it up. 

I hope that you got the flower arrangement and wine I had delivered today. To further make up for this blunder, if you are available, I'd like to have you and Bob over for dinner next weekend. I'll make your favourite, seafood lasagna. 

Please accept my apologies. 

Sincerely, Janice

Dear Mr. Wilson,

I am writing to apologize for not being at the budget meeting yesterday afternoon. I know these meetings are important, especially when we are making plans for the final quarter. Unfortunately, a delay kept me from attending.

The reason I was not there is that my meeting with the Chief Financial Officer regarding the Penske project ran an hour late. As you know, Mr. Wallace’s office is on the 34th floor of the Finley building and by the time we finished, it was already a quarter past three.

I have followed up to make sure I have all the budget information. Alice is going to provide me with the forecast and Jane will be sending me the minutes. I am also having lunch with Jack today and he will answer any questions I may have about what was discussed.

Again, I am sincerely sorry that I was unable to attend and hope you understand the circumstances that led to my absence.

Yours truly,

John Watson

Similarities and differences

Opening and closing:

The personal letter addresses the receiver by first name and signs off the same way whereas the formal letter uses a title “Mr.” for formality and signs off with a first and last name for the same reason.

Language and Tone:

The business letter contains vocabulary that's specific to the working world (budget meeting, forecast, minutes, project) whereas the personal letter has common words (movie theatre, smartphone, blunder, your favourite).

Additionally, you can see two different levels of tone. The personal letter uses contractions (I’m, didn’t, can’t) but you won't see that in the business letter. Also, saying “I’m so sorry” is more personal than “I am writing to apologize for . . .”. The same can be said for “sorry that I didn’t make it” and “sincerely sorry that I was unable to attend”, as mentioned above.

The tone is also indicated by the phrase used to sign off the letters. The first uses “Sincerely” which is a safe ending to a personal apology letter. “Yours truly” is also a good choice for the business world if you are apologizing for something.

Otherwise, the letters look the same in layout. The paragraphs are short. The entire length exceeds 150 words and each bullet point from the task is addressed and extended in detail.

Knowing how to apologize appropriately is a skill that is useful beyond the IELTS exam. I hope these sample letters and explanations give you further understanding of how it’s done. 

Good luck and have fun with your preparation.