No matter how much you try to organize your inbox, oversights happen—you’re scrolling through your messages and discover you never replied to an email. Despite your best intentions to answer promptly, you’ve put it off and now don’t know what to say.
One simple gesture can help you maintain relationships and address the oversight when you’ve delayed an email: apologizing. Showing that you know you messed up can help you build trust with your connections and reverse any negative feelings that may have come from the late reply.
It’s not always easy to put your apology into words, and your approach will vary based on the formality of the relationship or how egregious your delay really was. Here’s some general guidance on crafting an apology email to get you started:
Quick tips for your apology email
Don’t blame anyone else for your delay—take responsibility.
Always be friendly and respectful.
Include the apology in the first sentence.
Don’t go into too much detail about your reasons for the late reply—keep it brief and professional.
Reply to all inquiries or information sent in the original email.
Emphasize that you’re willing to communicate further about the issue or request, and if email is your Achilles' heel, suggest a quicker mode of communication to expedite the conversation.
Now, let’s look at a few different scenarios to see how that communication comes together.
5 email templates to use when apologizing for a late response
1. General apology email
First, it’s helpful to have a jumping-off point with a general template you can adapt to whatever situation arises.
First, I just want to say I apologize for being so late in getting back to you. I meant to respond right away and only just realized I never replied.
I love your idea and have attached more information about how I think I can help. If there’s anything else I can provide, or if you’d like to schedule a call, please do let me know.
Thank you for your initial inquiry and again I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond.
2. Turning someone down
Let’s say a friend or colleague emailed you asking for your assistance or participation in something, whether joining an escape room team or a workplace committee. You may know right away you don’t want to do it, and it’s easy to put off responding for fear of how they’ll react. Here’s an email example for this scenario.
First of all, I want to apologize for my delay in replying to your request. Thank you for thinking of me for the opportunity, but unfortunately I won’t be able to participate this time around. My workload has been particularly heavy, and I don’t have much extra time right now. But I’ll let you know if anything changes.
Thank you again and please excuse my late reply.
3. Responding to news
Perhaps a colleague emailed to share exciting news or information with you. Maybe they got a promotion or reached an important milestone. While you may have been ecstatic for them when you got the email, taking a long time to reply can make it seem like you don’t really care about their accomplishment. Here’s what to say.
I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your email. As soon as I saw the news I was thrilled for you—congratulations! I simply let my response slip through the cracks, so please excuse my delay.
I’m so glad you decided to share the news with me, and I look forward to seeing what else you’ll be accomplishing in this new role! If I can support you in any way, let me know.
4. You had to take time to consider the request
Another common scenario is that you simply needed more time to respond to an email and have been thinking over someone’s request. While it’s best practice to respond right away and let them know you’ll get back to them soon, sometimes we forget to send that courtesy note. Here’s an example email for this case.
I apologize for my late reply to your email. I wanted to be sure I carefully considered the ask before responding, and I had to pull together some information to provide everything you requested. Attached please find my response and all applicable details. Do let me know if you have any questions or require anything further to move forward.
Sorry again for the delay!
5. You were asked to send something
It can give you a sinking feeling to discover that you never sent a requested document, and now it’s been weeks. But, it happens. And one simple email can hopefully resolve any hard feelings or hold-ups.
I just noticed that I never responded to your email, and I’m so sorry for the oversight. Attached is the document you requested, and I hope it’s not too late.
Please excuse my delay and let me know if you have any further questions. I’m also happy to get on a phone call to discuss.
One last thing: Should you even apologize?
Let’s assume all of the late responses above were sent a week or two (or even a month) after the initial note. A quick apology does wonders. But if you’re responding to an email two or three days later, or after a recognized holiday, does that warrant an apology? Probably not. If your instinct is to over-apologize for a normal communication cadence, check out our alternatives to “sorry for the late response.” Then press send on your most dignified reply yet.