Hi guys, I’d like to take a moment tonight to do a little write up about 済む（すむ）. In my opinion one of the most misunderstood kanji/words in Japanese. Due to this expression commonly being written as kana, quite a few people don’t know that it is actually the same すむ that’s in すみません（済みません）.
Apart from すみません being a ridiculously common expression, there is also the expression 〜ずに済む, which is a grammar point that expresses ‘to get away with not doing something’. Let’s take a quick look at some examples of both meanings, and then examine what すむ’s real meaning is.
“I’m sorry for eating your cake”
“I’m sorry for handing your money to the wrong person”
“To get away with not doing the dishes”
“Since I was able to enter the company through an aquaintances introduction, I got away with not taking a test”
Now if we try to find what 済む means in a dictionary, we will get something like （to finish, to end, to be completed). While this is half of the story, it removes the most important part of what すむ is. The true meaning for すむ in every situation is -
'to come to an end that will (never) result in another action"
すむ is the ultimate end in Japanese. It’s nuance is that whatever is finishing, is finishing because it is done, zip, finito, お・わ・り. We do not expect that any other action will be required later. すむ always has this nuance, now let’s take a look at すむ’s true meaning in the example sentences one more time!
(( I will not let it finish in a way that I ate your cake … So I apologize ))
(( I will not let it finish in a way that I handed your money to the wrong person … So I apologize ))
(( To not do the dishes and expect to not have to do them in the future - someone else will do it ))
(( Since I got in to a company through an aquaintances introduction, It ended with that a test was not required - and I do not expect that one will be required ever in the future ))
So what you’re actually saying when you say すみません！ Is ‘I have unfinished business’ Nothing more, nothing less.
Hope you found this interesting!