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The other day I've been talking with someone on social media, and I said to them (explaining why I had been radio silent the previous day):

Ciao! Scusami, ho avuto troppo da fare al lavoro ieri

They corrected me and told me that I would need to write

Ciao! Scusami ma ho avuto troppo da fare al lavoro ieri

Now, both in English and in my native Russian, that would be a weird way of putting it.

You would only say "sorry but" when you are being accused of something or making excuses.

If you said "I'm sorry but I need to use the bathroom" when leaving the table, it would assume you're not normally allowed to use the bathroom; and something like "Hello! I'm sorry but I overslept" would be borderline rude, because oversleeping is not a valid excuse for being late.

In English, both these phrases sound funny and they would work better without "but".

However, I've noticed that Italian speakers do use this "sorry but" all the time when speaking English or Russian, so maybe Italian works differently.

Do you need to use ma after scusami, even if you're not making excuses?

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  • 3
    We probably tend to overuse the conjunction “ma” and your second example sounds quite natural. I’d disagree that your first example is not correct.
    – Hachi
    Sep 30 at 5:52
  • Curiously, Google Books shows an increasing usage of the expression “scusami ma” in recent years. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Hachi
    Sep 30 at 6:00
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    Both sentences are correct (even though in a more formal context you'd something stronger than a comma in the first one: Scusami: ho avuto...). A phrasing with ma has slightly undertones of not being an actual apology, but some of a rebuttal.
    – DaG
    Sep 30 at 8:25
  • @Hachi: there's a similar increase in scusami without the ma (or in ma without the scusami, for that matter). Did you guys grow more polite or started to argue more?
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 30 at 12:56
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Do you need to use ma after scusami, even if you're not making excuses?

No, you don't. And I don't see why you should. A simple search for "scusami" in the Treccani website would list examples as:

  • Scusami, non ho contanti oggi.
  • Scusami, la spinta non è stata intenzionale.
  • Scusami, l’ho detto in un momento di rabbia.
  • Scusami, non t’ho sentito, ero distratto.

Your sentence "Ciao! Scusami, ho avuto troppo da fare al lavoro ieri" is perfectly fine. The usage of "ma" is neither related to nor required by the word "scusami".

Suggestion (if you don't mind): focus on Italian language usage of words (in this case, the word "ma"). Don't refer to English (or Russian) grammar/structures/usage while speaking or writing Italian. It might be misleading. English is English. Italian is Italian.

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  • Thank you for your answer. This correction came from a native speaker and this is the reason I'm asking the question. Do you think that adding the ma makes the Italian phrase as weird as adding the "but" does the English one?
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 1 at 21:15
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    I think this answer should suggest that the informal usage of “ma” after “scusami” is actually common.
    – Hachi
    Oct 1 at 21:45
  • @Quassnoi Weird? Not at all. Are you sure they "corrected" you? It might have been a suggestion for a valid alternative, even if with a slightly different meaning. Oct 2 at 4:56
  • @GiuseppeRomanazzi I'm using a service called Tandem, where you meet with people and learn each other's languages by writing or speaking with each other. If you think your party made an error, you can correct it, and it will highlight wrong or missing words in red. The menu button for this feature is named "Correct".
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 2 at 5:11
  • I see. Be kind with them. To be native doesn't make you a teacher. And even teachers make mistakes, after all. Oct 2 at 5:33
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Both are correct. The big difference is the comma. You are saying two sentences and in order to make sense (as they are in relation) you can join them with the preposition "ma" or make a pause expressed with "," or a long pause with "." to separate them.

It is the same in most occidental languages:

  • Ciao! Scusami ma ho avuto troppo da fare al lavoro ieri (niente pausa)
  • Ciao! Scusami, ho avuto troppo da fare al lavoro ieri (pausa corta)
  • Ciao! Scusami. Ho avuto troppo da fare al lavoro ieri (pausa lunga)
  • Je m'excuse mais j'ai eu trop de boulot... (niente pausa)
  • Je m'excuse, j'ai eu trop de boulot.... (pausa corta)
  • Je m'excuse. J'ai eu trop de boulot.... (pausa lunga)
  • Discúlpame pero he tenido mucho trabajo...
  • Discúlpame, he tenido mucho trabajo...
  • Discúlpame. He tenido mucho trabajo...

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