When And How To Apologize For Missing In Email

Nowadays, the average knowledge worker receives over a hundred work-related emails a day, and on average responds to over 25 of those emails. Even with that much replying, it's still easy to lose track of an email before it's too late. We all sometimes lose track of our emails. It's human, people expect it, but it's still good to say sorry.

When To Apologize

It's not always necessary to apologize for missing an email. Lots of emails aren't expected to be replied to, plus sometimes would do more harm than good.

Don't Apologize When They Don't Expect You To Respond

Carefully check to see if the email is even expecting a response. This is the most common reason why people accidently write a response to an email that doesn't need one.

ExampleYou may confirm a calendar invite through the calendar app, but never actually responded to the email with a confirmation. If you didn't reply in the first day, you probably don't need to respond. They already saw the calendar confirmation, they know you responded.

In other cases, you can find yourself in awkard positions where it's difficult to tell what the correct email ettiquette is. If it's not a clear mistake, towards not apologizing.

Don't Apologize If It's Been In Your Inbox For Weeks Or Months

Stop me if you've heard this one before. You get en email. You intend to reply to it, but you constantly put it off. Now it's been a couple weeks and you still haven't sent anything.

What should you do in this situation? Don't apologize, just archive the email and move on.

For most people, if their email doesn't get replied to in a couple weeks, they'll probably have moved on and forgotten that they waiting for your response. Apologizing, will do more harm. It'll remind them that it took you weeks to respond.

If you don't respond, you enjoy the potential benefit of them forgetting about it. If they were still waiting for your response they would have sent a follow up email.

Apologize If The Email Was Urgent

The most common reason why someone could get frustrated about a tardy response is of the original email was urgent. When the email was time-sensitive it's important to apologize for replying late.

To present yourself as reliable the most important thing to do, is to be prompt it when it matters the most. If you fail to do that, than apologizing profusely, to show how much you care about being on-time is really important.

ExampleYour boss asks you for some details for a presentation he needs to show to some clients tomorrow. If you don't get around to replying until after the presentation, it will reflect badly on your boss. Therefore, you really need to try to make things right.


Subject: Re: [URGENT] Need Some Info For Tomorrow's Meeting
, I'm really sorry about not getting to this email in time.
I had already logged off from work to be with my family when you sent the email late last night. By the time, I had opened my inbox the next morning, it was already too late.
I know this client was really important for us to win.
I hope things went well despite this setback. If you still need the info, I'll get it to you promptly. Again, sorry about being late. Best,

Apologize If They're Still Waiting For Your Response

If they're still waiting for your reply, it makes sense to apologize at the start of your response. These kind of apologies don't have to be too long or else it may seem insincerely or too formal. A simple 2 line apology at the start of the email will suffice.

Sorry for the late reply, it took me a while to gather the information so that I could respond.

How To Apologize

Be Sincere. The worst you can be in an apology email is insincere. An apology only works if they believe your remorseful, and you truly don't want to make this mistake again.

Keep It Short. No one wants to read a long winded apology email. A short email will land much better than a long one.

Don't Be Too Formal, or Too Informal. If you're too informal, it may seem that you don't care about the apology and you're only apologizing to save face. However, the same can be said about looking too formal. An extremely formal apology may seem stiff and off-putting to the recipient.

Start Off With The Apology. Don't bury the apology in the middle of the reply, or at the end. It's important to start of the message with the apology. If the recipient is currently unhappy with you, you need to pacify them before you can move on to a different topic.

Keep The Explanation Simple. Let's be honest, the recipient probably is not going to believe an extremely long winded explanation about why you didn't get the email in time. The "my dog ate my homework" type of excuses, don't work in an email setting. It's important to explain what happened, but an elaborate explanation only hurts your credibility.

Sample Apology Email

Here's a simple apology email for being late:

Subject: Re: Can You Take A Look At The Changes
, I only recently got a chance to look at this message, so I'm very for replying so late.
I was out on vacation with my family for the last two weeks over seas. You should have seen an automatic reply saying that I was out, but it looks like it was misconfigured.
I'll take a look right now at the changes. You should get a notification from me in a half an hour or so.

Why this email works: It's short, it explains why the response was late, but it moves the topic back to business.

Sample Email Explaining Your Still Working On The Reply

Here's what to do if it's been a while but you're still planning on replying.

Subject: Re: Question
Dear Bill, Sorry for not replying quickly to your last email.
I've been hounded this week with tons of emails so I'm still working through this mountainous backlog.
I'll try to respond fast as I can, but it might take a couple days. Thank you for your patience. Regards,

Why this email works: It's short, and it explains the late response. That's all that's needed for a good apology email.

Sample Emails Starting With An Apology

Here's an example that's a bit more thorough in explaining what happened:

Subject: Re: Next Steps
Hey Jess, I realized I hadn't replied to that email you sent
late last week
it looks like it got caught in my spam filter.
This shouldn't have happened, but I'll whitelist your email so you'll never get caught by my spam going forward.
In terms of next steps, I think the best approach is to reach out to their team again and tell them we'd like to go forward with their proposal. Frankly, I'm not that interested in listening to a couple more proposals before deciding, but if you still want to we can go with that instead.

Why this email works: It's short, it's not too formal, and it explains that you've taken active measures to make sure this issue doesn't come up again.

By Shalom Yiblet
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