Sometimes, no matter how much you want to say “yes,” you have to say “no,” but how can you correctly say no in English? Whether you already have too much on your plate (are very busy) or you just need some time to take care of yourself (do something for you), saying no sometimes is a good and necessary thing.
However, you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you have to refuse (reject, turn down, say no to) someone, but aren’t quite sure how to do so. That’s why this week, we’ve decided to focus on how to say no in English. See our blog about how to say yes in English!
NB: English speakers, particularly Americans, usually find it better to be polite than to be direct. If you’re too direct when saying no, the person you’re speaking to may take offense (be insulted, annoyed) and consider it rude (impolite, unfair). So make sure to keep politeness in mind!
I would love to, but…
One thing I always like to do when I have to reject an offer is to put forward an alternative option- if I can. Offering (inviting, suggesting) an alternative is a great way to show that you’re interested in what is happening, but for whatever reason, you’re unable to participate this time.
In this example, you can use I would love to, but… to show how much you would like to do something, as well as offer an alternative option.
A: Would you like to go out for ice cream?
B: I would love to, but I’m swamped (overwhelmed, super busy) right now. Maybe tomorrow?
I appreciate the offer, but…
This is another good example of how to politely say no in English, while offering an alternative. This is also a great phrase to use in business, as it’s relatively formal. As an example, you can use this phrase if you reject a job offer.
- I appreciate the offer, but I am unable to accept at this time.
- I’m sorry. I can’t come that day/night.
Has someone asked you to do something, but you already have something going on that day? Then this is the way for you to say no in English! Easy-peasy!
- I’m sorry. I can’t come on Thursday, I’m meeting a customer for lunch.
No, thank you.
Sometimes a more direct approach is best, and saying a simple No, thank you is the best way to do so (this, like this). It is direct while not being impolite, and clearly brings your meaning across. Don’t forget to offer an alternative if you’re able to!
A: Would you like some pizza?
B: No, thank you. I’ve already eaten.
Unfortunately, I can’t….
Another short and simple way to reject an offer is to say Unfortunately, I can’t…, and then give your reason. It’s short, sweet, and won’t cause any misunderstanding, which is always a bit of a pain (hard to do)!
A: (Do you) Want to go to the movies on Saturday?
B: Unfortunately, I can’t that day. I have other plans. How about Sunday, though?
Unfortunately can sound a little distant and overly formal / inappropriate if you use it in spoken English in an informal situation- but it really depends on your tone and how you say it. We use unfortunately more often in formal situations or in formal writing, like in business emails.
- Unfortunately, Ms. Sanders will not be able to attend the charity dinner in August, as she is already engaged at another event on the same evening.
Can you think of any other ways to say no in English? Share them with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and always tries to say yes, even if she is saying no. 🙂
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