How To Apologize for the Delay Over Email Like a Pro

Updated October 31, 2022

Sometimes people miss communications in the workplace or take extra time to respond to emails. When you need to write a reply and want to apologize for taking a long time to answer, it's important to maintain a positive relationship with the other party. By learning how to craft a thoughtful apology for the delay, you can easily move on to more important conversations while being respectful and professional. In this article, we explain how to apologize for the delay in responding to an email message and share several successful examples of sending a late reply email apology.

Related: How To Respond to Emails Professionally (With Examples)

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Why apologize for the delay over email?

When you have to send a late response to someone from your work, apologizing for the delay can make a big difference in the tone of your communication. Starting the message by explaining the delay and saying sorry can encourage the recipient to be more understanding, too.

An apology is also an acknowledgement that you respect the recipient's time and understand the importance of responding quickly in the future. By quickly apologizing for any wait that your late response may have caused, you can build rapport with the other party and set the relationship up for positive interactions and a collaborative mindset going forward.

Related: How To Write a Professional Email

How to say sorry for a delayed reply

Everyone's time is valuable in the workplace, so writing an apology for your late response is normal and respectful. However, that doesn't mean the entire email needs to be an apology, nor should you be apologizing all the time. The following steps can help you focus on the content of the message while maintaining a positive tone to move forward:

1. Determine when to apologize

First, make sure that it's appropriate to include an apology in the email. Colleagues and clients often understand that you have a busy schedule, so small delays may not require an apology. Don't feel that you have to apologize for a late response if someone emailed you outside of business hours or if you responded within the established time frame for a reply. Only send apologies when you're truly late or behind on communications in general. This ensures a genuine tone and sets reasonable expectations for future interactions.

Here are some examples of situations when it's appropriate to write an apology email:

  • Replying to a client after missing a deadline

  • Reaching out to a coworker after forgetting an email

  • Following up after an office disaster, such as a flood or an unexpected closure

  • Responding to emails after a lengthy vacation if you didn't have an auto-reply set up

Related: 20 Best Practices for Professional Email Etiquette

2. Open with a greeting

Start the email in a positive, professional way by using a polite greeting. Lead by saying hello and using the recipient's preferred title and name. Consider using an extra greeting to establish a friendly rapport, such as:

  • Thanks for following up!

  • I hope you're doing well

  • Thank you for reaching out

  • It's great to hear from you

By beginning the email with a greeting instead of immediately starting with the apology, you make your message read like a natural conversation easing into a potentially challenging subject. An appropriate greeting is polite because it shows that you care about developing an immediate connection with the recipient. Reminding your colleague or client of your existing professional connection instead of immediately starting with your lateness may help them be more receptive to your apology, preserving your positive relationship for future interactions.

Related: Seven Best Email Greeting For All Situations

3. Recognize the late reply

Next, acknowledge that your response to their email is later than you initially planned. Being accountable for the delay and how it influenced others is an important part of showing integrity and being respectful of how your actions impact your clients, customers, and team members. Here are a few ways you can tactfully bring up the delay:

  • I'm sorry it took me so long to respond

  • While checking my emails this morning, I noticed that I hadn't sent you a reply yet

  • Please excuse my not getting back to you sooner

  • I apologize for not getting this report to you before the weekend

Related: Writing an Out-of-Office Message for an Unknown Return Date

4. Explain the setback

After your initial apology, consider briefly explaining why your reply was late. You don't always have to provide a reason, especially if you were only a little behind on your emails. Everyone gets busy with other priorities at times, so consider simply mentioning that you had a busy week.

Related: How To Write Please Disregard My Previous Email

Sometimes, giving more specific context for the delay can help the recipient be more understanding and relaxed about the late reply. When justifying your delay, be brief and professional. Only include essential information that's appropriate for the workplace. Here are some examples:

  • I apologize for the delay. We had an outdated email address from the old database system and only recently found your new information.

  • Please excuse the delay. Our office flooded during the recent deluge and our computers were moved to an adjacent building. Your email was lost in the influx of messages and media inquiries that followed.

  • I'm sorry for the late response. I was out of the office on a business trip for the past week.

5. Move on with the email

Once you briefly discuss the delay and say sorry, continue with the content of your message. Include any information that's still relevant to the original message and share additional updates that developed during the wait. If possible, offer solutions for any issues that may have occurred in the meantime. Continuing on with your regular business provides a sense of normalcy and sets you and your client, coworker, or manager back on a productive path.

Related: How To End an Email

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3 professional responses to a forgotten email

Being late in responding to an email is one thing, but perhaps you became so busy that you simply forgot to reply. Here are some responses you can use as a model when replying to potentially forgotten emails:

Email to a coworker

This sample email shows a scenario where you write to acknowledge a late email to a colleague:

Good morning Gregory,

I hope this email finds you well. When I was reviewing the Johnson account this morning, I realized that I never sent over those back wall designs for the bakery client to you last week. I apologize for the delay. The designs completely slipped my mind while I was focusing on finishing our big printing project for Hughes. If you want an extra hand with the finishing touches of the project to make up for lost time, I'm more than happy to help. The designs are attached here. Thanks again for your time and patience.

All the best,
Charlene Lopez
Interior designer at Wilks-Birdsell Architecture

Related: The Best Ways to Start an Email for the Desired Response

Email to a manager

Here's an example email you could write to a supervisor when sending a delayed reply:

Hi Kaitlin,

Thank you for sending me this reminder. I'm so sorry for missing your first request for those presentation materials. I've been getting so many client emails for this recent campaign that yours got lost in the shuffle, so I really appreciate your help in staying on track. Here's the slide deck and report you requested. I also printed out all the necessary documents and placed them in a folder in the conference room.

Allen T
Client Sales Associate for EcoCommunications

Related: How To Apologize in an Email (With Five Steps and Examples)

Email to a customer

This is an example message you could send to a customer or client when dealing with late communications:

Dear Ms. Alberts,

When I reviewed my email inbox this morning, I noticed that I hadn't replied to you. I sincerely apologize that I couldn't get back to you sooner. We've had two employees on leave for summer holidays, so I've been managing the department alone for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, I've had little time for attending to my own email account.

Now that my colleagues are back at their desks, I'm finally able to help with your request. I've attached the fall season's catalogue of cloth samples to this email. I can provide you with additional samples if needed. Please let me know if you need further assistance.

Best wishes,
Claudia Jones
Office Administrator for Southern Furniture

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