I came upon the phrase

(offer) an apology for the sake of apology.

Does it really make sense? I ask this question because it is exactly the direct translation of my native language (Japanese), and if translated into Japanese, it has a perfect meaning.

The English phrases found in the Japanese dictionary sometimes don't make sense or can't be used at all. So I wonder if it makes sense in English, too.

  • 面白いですね。日本語で話せますか?
    – Robusto
    Jan 11, 2017 at 2:33
  • Does "(offer) an apology for the sake of apologizing" have the same "perfect meaning" in Japanese?
    – Jasper
    Jan 11, 2017 at 3:14
  • Yes, it does. It's sometimes used when we hear politicians or people in higher rank apologize and notice that their apology does not come from the bottom of their heart. We shout in front of TV, "Stop using an apology for the sake of apology!"
    – Akihiro
    Jan 11, 2017 at 4:10
  • you can also call it a "pro forma apology" or "an apology pro forma", meaning an apology in form only.
    – mobileink
    Jan 12, 2017 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


Yes, it makes sense, meaning an apology that is insincere to some extent, and given for some reason other than expressing genuine sorrow or remorse.

A google search on the phrase shows this use:

Which brings me back to the apology issued by Veterans For Peace. What good is an apology when it’s issued by a group of people who played no direct role in the actions they’re apologizing for? Perhaps a better question is this: Who benefits from such an apology? The answer is obvious: the people issuing the apology themselves. It’s a lame, empty, and self-serving gesture thinly disguised as meaningful action — apology for the sake of apology. There’s no shortage of problems in the world today, including the threat of nuclear proliferation. Apologies to the dead don’t disarm bombs.

From http://taskandpurpose.com/this-vets-group-thinks-we-owe-all-of-humanity-an-apology-for-the-atomic-bomb/

  • I notice that the first "apology" in the bold phrase does not have an indefinite article. I think this is because both uses of "apology" in the phrase are abstract. They refer to the idea of "apologizing", not to any particular "apology".
    – Jasper
    Jan 11, 2017 at 2:58
  • 1
    @Jas I agree. We can read it as something like This is an example of apology (in some general sense) for the sake of apology (in some general sense). I think the key is that it's conceptualized as a generality. Something being described in general is an abstraction even when the thing(s) being generalized are tangible: I like people. Jan 11, 2017 at 3:10

The pattern you are using

doing something for the sake of itself

is used when the action is being done without a reason for doing it either half-heartedly or without genuine meaning/intent

talking for the sake of talking

means someone just keeps talking without any real meaning, sometimes called small chat or chit-chat

eating for the sake of eating

means to eat when you are not hungry but possibly because it's time to eat e.g. noon for lunch or 6pm for dinner.

This pattern is different than

something for something's sake

which means to do something without additional reward

be good for goodness sake
be good for the sake of being good

  • Do those statements necessarily hold true for expressions like We have to stop fighting for the sake of family unity. (dictionary.com/browse/for-the-sake-of), and Hurry up, for goodness sake (same source)? Jan 11, 2017 at 6:07
  • 1
    stop fighting for the sake of family unity is a different pattern and means literally what it says. Stop fighting for the sake of fighting would be the same pattern, meaning "there is no good reason for fighting". for goodness sake is an idiom used for emphasis, it does not have the noncommittal feeling
    – Peter
    Jan 11, 2017 at 6:21
  • Ah. But I think in grammar-speak something usually represents any noun. For example, it's common to talk about something of something as a phrase relating to possession, like work of Mozart. Maybe doing x for the sake of x is more accurate or clear? Or (something) for the sake of (itself)? Jan 11, 2017 at 6:37
  • Don't you think that examples remove that ambiguity?
    – Peter
    Jan 11, 2017 at 14:26
  • Yes, thanks. That makes it clear to me. Thanks again.
    – Akihiro
    Jan 13, 2017 at 1:50

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