Many times I'll be talking to someone and they'll yawn or cough (or something similar), then say "excuse me", or "sorry". I have no idea what type of response to give to this.

If they'd sneezed, then that's no problem; I'd just say "bless you", and life goes on. However, as far as I know, there's no standard response to these other minor interruptions.

I've tried saying something like "don't worry about it" or "no problem", but these feel like weird responses. The other person obviously isn't actually worried, they're just trying to acknowledge what some people think is a minor conversational faux pas. I've also just not responded, but that doesn't feel quite right either, because I haven't explained to the person that I literally do not care at all that they've coughed.

Is there some standard response for when someone acknowledges a minor interruption like this?

I'm in America, if it helps. Also, in my perfect world, they wouldn't even acknowledge they've done anything, but I'm making the assumption that pushing that behavior onto someone else is both difficult and not the right objective here.


5 Answers 5


It's probably best not to say anything. Unless there is something remarkable about the involuntary response, there really isn't a reason to reply to their reflexive remarks after it.

Think of it this way: There wasn't any indicator that their cough or yawn was relevant to the conversation at hand. In this case the remarks of "sorry" or "excuse me" aren't requests. Their apology is more of an indicator that the conversation should continue, as if uninterrupted, rather than the start of an additional thread of conversation. By remarking on it further you are ignoring their signaling and bringing focus to something outside their control.

  • Hello! Could you please try to back up your answer with references (either external sources or personal experience)? Have you ever tried this, did it work? Could you perhaps edit to improve this answer with something to back it up?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 12:05

My grandfather, who was a man of great class and tact, believed that the proper response to someone excusing themself after a bodily sound (burp, cough, etc) was a gracious but casual, "Certainly."

This should be done in an almost offhand manner. The aim is to acknowledge that your heard them speak without drawing undue attention to the situation or implying that they -really should be asking to be excused-.

  • I really like this. Classy approaches never go out of style, but if for some reason people would like to have it a bit more informal or laid back they could always go with "sure". Commented May 7, 2018 at 9:40

One response I sometimes leverage is "I'll never forgive you" -- usually accompanied by a wry smile -- when people apologize for small things like that. This response is obviously fairly sensitive to context (avoid using it at funerals or during murder trials), but if in a sufficiently informal context -- such as waiting in line or on an elevator, or during a random casual conversation, it's usually good for a little levity.

  • 29
    To me, this is only something I'd attempt once and only with people you're very familiar with. This sort of response, while witty, will likely confuse most. Commented May 3, 2018 at 19:33
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    @JarrodChristman It's certainly possible, but my personal anecdotal experience does not bear this out. In fact, I can't recall a single time where the quip has gotten anything less than a chuckle, and I most often use it around casual acquaintances. We're not exactly talking high stakes here, so I guess it comes down to whether you're willing to risk minor confusion in exchange for minor group amusement ;)
    – bvoyelr
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 14:44
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    A pithy "Nope" might be a way to make a similar joke with less chance of causing inadvertent offense.
    – Harabeck
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 21:26

In my area of the USA, this is perfectly normal behavior and the apology is not meant to warrant a response. If someone yawns while talking to you, then apologizes, they're simply signaling to you that the conversation isn't the reason and to continue. Some consider bodily functions, even involuntary ones like coughing, to be off putting, so they apologize. It's merely an expression of politeness. Going any further in trying to analyze it or think of a response to give would likely complicate the conversation and make them feel awkward.


I usually acknowledge it in a non-verbal way, with a nod or a smile.

It's enough of an acknowledgement that if they really are embarrassed about whatever bodily function they're apologising for, it offers reassurance, but doesn't further disrupt the conversation like saying 'no problem' does.

  • I often use a quick one-shoulder shrug and head tilt, as if to say "what can you do" or "don't sweat it".
    – kettlecrab
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 2:58

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