If you want to find out how to say excuse me in German, we first have to talk about the meaning. Because this phrase can be used in several circumstances and there are different expressions in the German language associated with these circumstances.
To make things a litte bit more complicated the expressions can also slightly change according to the circumstances. That is due to the fact that Germans address other with “Sie” when it’s a formal setting and with “du” (singular) or “ihr” (plural) when it’s informal.
Excuse Me in German when leaving the Room
When nature calls and you have to leave the room to see the bathroom, it would be rude to leave without saying anything. But talking about going to the toilet is also not considered good manners. So we often just use a vague “Excuse me”, leaving it open where exactly we are going. But of course, everyone understands. So you informed the people around you why you are leaving without being rude or common.
Or you might leave the room to take an important phone call. Again, you would say “excuse me!”
Germans in general are rather polite, so the same rules apply in the German language of course. The exact phrase to use depends on the kind of relationship you have with the people in the room. When it’s a formal situation, e.g. a business meeting, you would say “Entschuldigen sie mich (, bitte)!” (It’s up to you whether you add a bitte at the end or not. It simply means “please” and adding it on is a tad more polite.)
In a formal setting, the expression is the same whether there is just one other person with you in the room or there are several people.
But when you are with friends or family, you would use the less formal “Entschuldigt mich!” Again, you might end with an additional bitte (please).
And in case it’s an informal setting but there’s only one person with you in the room, you would say “Entschuldige mich, bitte!”
Excuse me in German when pushing through a Crowd
Let’s say you’re in a takeaway restaurant and your number has been called to collect your order. But there’s a crowd in front of the counter. Or you are at an airport, a train station or any other public place where there are huge flocks of people.
So, how do you get through? Well, you say “excuse me!” And if that doesn’t work, you’ll probably start repeating it. And each time it becomes a bit louder and in a less patient tone. And in case that strategy fails, you’ll start to push other people aside gently while still exclaiming “excuse me!”
The correct German expression for this scenario is “Entschuldigung!” Fortunately it’s the same word you would use when you bump into someone or step on his foot. So Entschuldigung works both as a precaution and as an excuse. Now, isn’t that handy?
Excuse me in German when seeking Attention
Let’s say you’re at a conference and the speaker talks incessantly. But you have a question. Or you would like to point out some error he made. So you put up your hand and say “excuse me”.
Or you are looking for directions and see another person you would like to ask for advice. Again, in English you would call “excuse me!?”
In German there are two (or even three) similar expressions for these situations. The first would be “Entschuldigen sie!?” (It’s kind of a question, so you would raise your voice slightly at the end just as you would in English.)
Again, addressing another person with “Sie” is correct in formal settings. In informal situations, you address other people with “du”. But no German would ever say “Entschuldigst du!?” Instead you would say “Entschuldige bitte!“
The simpler Solution
So these were the different possibilities how to say “excuse me” in German. But if these different expressions for formal and informal settings make your head go dizzy, there’s an easy way out. Just use the word “Entschuldigung” instead. It works in all these circumstances and you don’t have to decide how to address the other person correctly.