How to say no in English

Whatever language we are speaking, there are always times we have to say no. But how do we do it without being rude or insulting? Follow these three simple steps to help you to say no without hurting the feelings of the person who wants you to do something.

Be honest but polite

Start your refusal with “I’m sorry but…”, “I’m unable to…” or “I’m afraid that…” when you are speaking or “I regret that…” if you are writing. This lets the person you are communicating with know that your answer will probably be negative and prepares them for your answer.

Follow up with “I can’t…” or “I’m not able to…” in a conversation or “I’m unable to…” in writing then finish the sentence by adding in their request. For example “I’m sorry, but I can’t come to your party.” Now the person you are speaking to knows you have refused their request, you can move onto the next step.

Explain why

If you have another appointment, you can say “I’ve got another commitment at that time” or “I’m not available at that time.” If something unexpected happens that means you have to say no, you can say “Something has come up.” If you are just too busy, you can say “I’ve got too much on at the moment” or “I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment“.

Sometimes, you might have to say no simply because you aren’t very good at a particular thing. If this is the area, say “That’s not my strong suit” or “I’m not very strong in that area.” Then you can move on to suggest someone who might be in a better positions to help.

If you don’t want to give a specific reason, that’s fine, too. If you simply don’t like what you have been asked to do, you can say “That’s not really my cup of tea” or “I don’t really enjoy that kind of thing.” After that, it’s time to continue to the next stage.

Follow up with an alternative

If you’ve had to refuse because of other commitments or simply because you don’t have enough time you can suggest a time when you would be able to accept the other person’s offer. If you think you are not the right person to help, suggest someone who would be in a better position to help. When you say no simply because you don’t want to do something, suggest another thing you could do instead. Offering an alternative or a solution turns a negative situation into something positive.

So, next time you have to say no in English, follow these simple steps and everything will go smoothly.