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Polite ways to say “no” in English. Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in English Language, English Vocabulary

Image "No." by sboneham on Flickr.com.

Image “No.” by sboneham on Flickr.com.

Here is a good rule to keep in mind about English; it is often better to be polite than it is to be direct. English speakers often use more words than are necessary to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ because they are adding polite words to the simple messages they are trying to get across. If you are too direct in saying ‘no’ in English this can be considered rude. Let’s take a look today at some different, polite, ways to say ‘no.’ You might want to practice these new expressions often, so you don’t have to worry about appearing rude when speaking English to native speakers.

Here are some polite ways to say ‘no’ to a request for help:

I would love to help you, but …
I wish I could help you, but …
Normally I would be able to, but …  or Normally I would say yes, but…

Unfortunately now is not a good time for me….

 

Polite ways to say ‘no’ to an offer that you do not want to accept:

I appreciate the offer, but …
That would be great, but ….
Thank you for the offer, but …

 

Polite ways to say ‘no’ to an invitation:

That sounds great, but….
I’m sorry I can’t come that day/night. I have …
I really appreciate the invitation, but…

I wish I could come, but unfortunately …

 

Okay, now let’s practice using these expressions in context with a few scenarios. Here are three situations in which you need to find a polite way to say ‘no.’ Try and use the help above and see what you come up with, then look below to see what I would say in these situations.

 

Scenario 1: Your neighbor is moving to a new apartment and comes over at the last minute asking for help moving her furniture. You have to prepare for a big presentation so you are too busy to help.

 

Scenario 2: Your boyfriend offers to pick you up from work, but you already have plans to have drinks with your co-workers and so you don’t need a ride home.

 

Scenario 3: You are invited to a party at a co-workers house, but you don’t really like the co-worker and don’t want to go.

 

Scenario 1:

I would love to help you, but I am really busy working on a presentation for work right now, so I am not free.
I wish I could help you, but I have a lot of work to do for a presentation I am making tomorrow.
Normally I would be able to, but I have to prepare for my big presentation that is happening tomorrow.

Unfortunately now is not a good time for me, I have to work on an important presentation.

 

Scenario 2:

I appreciate the offer, but I was planning on having drinks with my coworkers.
That would be great, but just not tonight, because I am having drinks with my coworkers.
Thank you for the offer, but I have plans already to have drinks with my coworkers. Why don’t you come and have drinks with us!

 

Scenario 3:

That sounds great, but I can’t make it this time.
I’m sorry I can’t come that night. I have other plans already.
I really appreciate the invitation, but I am not going to be able to make it this time.

I wish I could come, but unfortunately I won’t be able to be there. Have a great party.

 

How do your responses compare to mine?

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.