How To Apologize For A Late Reply (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer
Oct. 19, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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There’s going to come a time when you respond to a work email late. It happens to everyone. Knowing the proper way to respond to those late emails can help ease any tension it has caused with your coworker.

We will go over how to determine if you are late in your response, how to apologize for the late response, and provide an example.

Key Takeaways:

  • When you’re responding to a late email, it’s important to acknowledge the delay and be polite in your response.

  • Try not to make any excuses for your late reply and be honest about what happened.

  • To avoid having late responses try organizing your email inbox and flagging any important people to catch their email right away.

How To Apologize For A Late Reply (With Examples)

Determine If You Are Late In Your Response

The first thing to ask yourself is – is your response delayed? Sometimes that’s really obvious. There could be a deadline that you totally missed, or you know you put it off longer than you should have.

Other times, that can be a bit vague because you’re not sure when they wanted a response. There might even be situations where the recipient doesn’t expect a speedy response, so you’re in the clear.

How to determine if you’re late?

  • The first step is to see if the email requires a response. Sometimes it would be nice of you to respond but not essential.

  • Look for cues or requests to respond by a certain date. Or questions that might need answers sooner rather than later. Most questions should be responded to, so that’s a definite cue that a response is needed.

  • Take the person into consideration; if you know that person likes answers right away, then you have a good idea of what their expectations are.

  • You can also consider the business relationship. If it’s an important client, a needy client, or a new business you’re grooming – those are all situations that require prompt responses. A complainer who just likes to touch base might not need an especially prompt reply. In fact, that might just encourage their complaints to come more rapid-fire.

How to Apologize for a Late Response

Knowing how to say I’m sorry can be difficult. For some people, this phrase comes too easily. In fact, they tend to say it all the time when there’s no reason to. For others, it can be the hardest thing to get them to say. So, how do you find the path to those simple words in a professional world when it’s so tricky in your personal life?

  1. Acknowledge the delay. If you messed something up, then admitting that you do it is a big part of apologizing. Even if it’s just a late email, saying “I’m sorry I didn’t respond to you sooner” can go a long way toward mending fences and repairing professional reputations.

  2. Be polite. If you’re in the wrong, then being rude and on the offensive is a really bad tact to take. It seems logical on paper, but so many people do this defensively without even realizing how wrong it is. Acknowledge you may have put the recipient in a bad position and be nice about it.

    Examples include:

    • Thank you for your patience

    • Apologizes for the delay

    • Please excuse the delay

    • Thank you for the reminder

  3. Don’t go overboard. While admitting your wrongdoing and being nice about it is one thing, going overboard with an apology smacks of insincerity. Even worse, it can make you seem like you’re begging or constantly making mistakes.

  4. Don’t make excuses. An excuse is not a reason; therefore, it rarely has a place in business. True professionals accept responsibility and don’t try to shift the blame or excuse their mistakes.

    That said, sometimes there are definitely reasons and good ones. If this is the case, then feel free to mention it. What if your business was shut down due to a flood, and you didn’t have access to your files? Clearly, a good reason, and there are many others.

  5. Is there more you can do? Again, you don’t want to go overboard, but if they had asked for a follow-up, you could make sure it’s done, and it’s done well. Asking if they need more assistance might also be in order and, this time, make sure you attend to it promptly.

Example Email Apology for Delayed Response

If you’re still not really sure what to say and how to walk that fine line between not enough and too much, this sample email apology might help.

April 30, 2021

Hello Jon,

I must apologize for the delay in returning your message. I am having my team collect the files you requested today, and they should get to you by the end of the day tomorrow. If you need anything else, please reach out to me, and I’ll make sure we expedite your request.

Thank you for your patience,


You can see that the sender apologized and didn’t make any excuses for her behavior. The sender just simply accepted responsibility and moved on. Then she acknowledged the request and explained how she was responding to it and offered to follow up, if needed, in a timely manner.

Finally, not to call more attention to the time error, but to let the recipient know she appreciates their business, she added a thank you.

Tips to Avoid Late Emails

Avoiding the apology letter for a late email is as easy as never having a late response. How do you manage this? If answering your emails as you get them or as you read them is not practical, then you need to devise a system of organizing emails and responding to them.

  • Reserve time to check emails. Setting aside an hour or two one day a week to respond to emails will keep you out of falling into this trap in most cases. Some responses require a lot of work and effort, but not all of them do.

  • Organize your email inbox. Organizing your inbox is a great way to avoid late emails. The best way to do this is to:

    • Delete junk main

    • Unsubscribe from subscriptions

    • Create folders for your emails

    • Flag emails from certain people

  • Prioritize your responses. If you find any messages that need responding to, prioritize which ones are more urgent. You can do this by determining your relationship with the sender. If it is someone you are more friendly with and can wait a little longer, push them behind someone else for the time being. You should determine the importance of the contents of them email before you do this.

Maybe your response is a way to buy time — it happens, but at least you should acknowledge the request. This helps you clear up your inbox queue and move on without things piling up and without the guilt.

When to Grab the Phone

Many people don’t like doing business on the phone, granted some still prefer it. There are times when picking up the phone and getting a quick answer is the most expeditious way to solve a problem. There are other times when a paper trail of communications is necessary for the process.

If you’ve realized you dropped the ball and are late with an email, a quick phone call to apologize, clarify the email request, and discuss the next steps can do a lot to smooth over relations.

Phone calls do add a personal touch that can make it easier for forgiveness to happen. This depends on the timeframe and the personalities of those involved, but just remember that a quick call might save the day.

Modern Business Communication Means Big Changes

In recent years there’s been a dramatic shift in business communications. Messages are sent without a lot of thought. Formal business letters are few and far between. Grammar and punctuation have been forgotten and replaced by emojis.

Messages fly back and forth faster than you can communicate them in person, and regular business hours no longer have much meaning as people carry their messages with them on their phones.

On the other end of the spectrum, it becomes easier to ignore messages. When you know who is calling, you can avoid them. Phones can be silenced. Certain people can be blocked. If you dread an assignment, you can push it aside. Emails can stack up and get lost in the queue.

All of these changes in business communication have led to a different sort of etiquette and different expectations. It can be difficult to navigate the business communication crossroads of today and not upset anyone.

One of the big issues is late responses. And sometimes, it’s just the perception of a late response. Or it could be what you think is a good timeline is not sufficient in someone else’s mind.

Apologizing for a Late Response FAQ

  1. Should you apologize for a late reply?

    This depends on the situation but if your late response caused an issue, hurt your reputation, damaged the company’s reputation, or anything along those lines, then an apology is probably in order.

    An alternative to saying “I’m sorry” is saying, “Thank you for your patience,” and this might actually be a better tact to take. Some people believe that saying I’m sorry in business is like admitting you’re wrong, and even worse, to some, it’s a sign of incompetence.

    Instead of saying thank you for your patience, thank the person first while admitting you could have responded sooner but never stop apologizing. This is a good approach if your delay was rather insignificant and didn’t cause any real problems.

  2. What about April 30th holiday?

    April 30th is an unofficial/official holiday of sorts for responding to those emails you have floating around in the dead pile? It’s April 30th, and you’re encouraged to take advantage of this day to respond to those emails.

    What’s our advice? Don’t do it. Maybe this will work for personal emails or for something you don’t care about, but if you want to maintain that working relationship or hold onto your hard-earned professional reputation, then don’t hold onto emails until April 30th.

    In most situations, this is way too long to wait. Even then, people are not going to feel good about being delegated as a “throw-away” on April 30th. It’s best that you manage your responses and emails in a timely fashion.

Final Thoughts

Today’s business world moves at a very fast pace, and each person is different. That means while some people may expect a response in a day, others expect it within minutes. Add to that your very busy schedule, the fact that technology makes it easy to overlook an email entry, and you’re almost set up for delays.

The important thing to note is that delays aren’t the end of the world (in most situations), and you can overcome them. You can even set yourself up to have fewer late emails in the future.

The best thing you can do is learn how to craft a professional business email, apologize for the delay, and then move on. There’s no need for drama, for excuses and blame, and agonizing over your own mistakes. To err is human, after all.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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