20+ Ways to Refuse Politely in English

Elly Kimreviewed bySana Liashuk / more about Editorial Process14 min
Created: Sep 20, 2022Last updated: Dec 26, 2023
Ways to Refuse Politely in English

People are wondering how to refuse politely in different languages. The main problem is not to find the right words, but to find the courage to say no to people we love and respect. Many reasons explain, why it is tough to say this word. Someone doesn’t want to seem rude, and others don’t want to upset their friends or family. But this does not negate the importance of this skill. 

Learning how to refuse politely in English is essential for people of different experience levels. It can be helpful in various life circumstances – at school, university, workplace, or even home. So if you want to understand all the nuances of how to politely refuse, keep reading. We will tell you every detail.

Why do some people find it difficult to say no?

Before learning useful saying-no-tips, let’s talk about the psychological component of the question. Billions worldwide struggle to find the right words to politely say no. But the main reasons behind it are not the lack of the right words or insufficient language proficiency. They are more profoundly hidden and usually depend on a person’s character, behavioral features, etc. So if you still don’t know how to refuse someone politely, consider some important reasons that might get in your way.

  1. Fear of confrontation. According to Psychology Today, it might be the most widespread reason. People who find it difficult to say no are often conflict-avoidant personalities. They try to stay away from any kind of confrontation because they feel anxious and stressed in such situations.
  2. Lack of self-esteem and confidence. It is challenging to stand our ground and protect our interests when we don’t believe in ourselves. We might be afraid that others will see us as weak or incompetent if we refuse them.
  3. The desire to please everyone around us. This reason is closely related to the previous one. If we want other people’s approval too much, it becomes difficult for us to risk disappointing them by saying no.
  4. The feeling of guilt. Many of us have been taught to believe we should always help others and say yes to their requests. So, when someone asks us for a favor, it might be challenging to refuse because we feel guilty about it.
  5. Fear of missing out. This reason is especially relevant in our time of social media and constant FOMO. We are afraid that we will miss out on an opportunity or an outstanding experience if we say no to something.

These are only some of the reasons why people have difficulties refusing. If you want to learn how to say no politely, you should start with understanding and accepting your reasons. Once you know what prevents you from saying no, finding the right words and phrases will be easier. 

How to politely say no – general tips to get started

How to say no politely

Now that you know why people find it difficult to refuse, let’s move on to some general tips that will be helpful in different life situations. You can use these pieces of advice regardless of the person you are talking to and your conversation context.

  • Use thank you in every answer.

To make the person feel welcome, thank them for their request before you refuse. It will help you avoid sounding offensive and accept the offer when you are comfortable with it. 

Q: Do you need a ride home?

A: No, thank you. 

  • Avoid saying straight no. 

There is another great way to say no and not to sound rude. Try to use some words that will lengthen your sentence, and don’t use a “No.” For example:

Q: Can you please help me with the project? 

A: Unfortunately, I can’t do it right now. 

  • Offer an explanation. 

In some cases, explaining why you are saying no might be helpful. It will make your refusal more understandable and reasonable. However, don’t overdo it – a short and simple explanation is usually enough. For example:

Q: Do you want to have lunch with me?

A: No, thank you. I’d already eaten ten minutes ago. 

  • Be brief and concise. 

It is often difficult for us to refuse politely because we need to justify our decision or explain it in detail. However, in most cases, a concise answer is enough. For example:

Q: Do you want to come over today?

A: I’m sorry, I think I can’t do it today. 

  • Make suggestions. 

If you don't have time to accept a friend's offer, but you still want to do it later, offer the option that will suit everyone. For example: 

Q: Do you want to go to the cinema tomorrow?

A: I would love to go to the cinema with you, but I’m working tomorrow. Would you like to do it next week?

  • Don’t forget to apologize. 

Another great way to sound politely while refusing. It will help you to show how much you appreciate the offer and how sad you are because of the inability to accept it. For example:

Q: Do you want to go camping?

A: I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can do it.

Remember that saying no doesn’t have to be complicated. You may refuse anytime you need. And also, you have to know that in some situations, “No” is a complete sentence. If you feel that accepting the offer or doing something someone’s asking you to do can harm you, just say no politely, without any explanation. 

How to say no in English due to busyness

So, you finally know the main reasons for refusal and general tips that can help you to be more confident. Now, it’s time to take a look at the most common situations where you need to know how to say no in English. And the first stop in this intriguing journey will be the circumstances where you have to refuse due to your busyness. 

There are many situations where someone offers you to do something at a particular time, but you don’t have the opportunity to accept this offer. Whether it’s your boss asking you to start a new project or your best friend inviting you to go out for a drink, it is essential to understand how to tell someone no politely. For such situations, we list the best phrases you can use. 

  • I’m sorry, I can’t. I have other plans. 

This phrase will be helpful if you need to decline someone’s offer to do something at a particular time. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to accept the proposal, you can use this expression to refuse politely. For example:

Q: Hey, John, do you want to go out with the boys?

A: I’m sorry, I can’t. I have other plans. 

  • I wish I could, but I can’t. 

If you really regret that you can’t help someone or accept the offer, you can use this phrase. It will be helpful regarding the person you are talking to and the circumstances. If you want to be even more polite, you can explain the reasons for your refusal. For example: 

Q: Do you want to go for a walk?

A: I wish I could, but I can’t. I have plenty of work to do. 

  • I’m sorry, but I have other commitments. 

Another way of saying no politely. It is a more official phrase to become handy in your workplace. You can use it to refuse to do something because of other obligations. For example:

Q: Could you please help me with this project?

A: I’m sorry, but I have other commitments. You can ask Jack – he is free right now.

  • Sorry. I don’t think I’ll be able to.

If you are uncertain whether you will be able to do something or not, this phrase will be helpful. It is polite and shows that you are considering the offer, but there is still some uncertainty regarding your ability to fulfill it. For example:

Q: Would you like to go to the cinema later that night?

A: Sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to. 


How do you politely say no if you don’t want to sound rude?

As we’ve said earlier, sometimes people can consider refusal as something offensive. That is why, it is essential to learn some tips that can help you to sound very friendly and polite, even if you can’t satisfy the request. So if you want to know how to politely tell someone no, check our favorite expressions below. 

  • I’m sorry, but…

The best way to politely refuse is to start by apologizing. If you don’t want to sound offensive, a simple sorry at the beginning of your statement will be the best option. For example:

Q: Can I borrow your bike for the weekends?

A: I’m sorry, but I can’t give it to you. I’m going for a ride with Mike.

  • I would love to, but… 

Another polite phrase you can use if you are wondering how to decline something politely. It is suitable for informal conversations. For example:

Q: Would you like to join us tomorrow?

A: I would love to, but I have to work. 

  • That sounds good, but…

This phrase is excellent if you don’t want to sound rude, but still can’t satisfy the request. This expression is most often appropriate when you are asked to do something you like but have no opportunity to do it because of certain circumstances. For example:

Q: Do you want to go to McDonald’s tomorrow?

A: That sounds good, but I’m dieting. 

  • That’s very kind of you; unfortunately, I can’t…

The polite phrase for those who are wondering how to refuse someone politely. Use this expression if you want to decline an offer. For example:

Q: I can lend you my shoes for the party if it works for you. 

A: That’s very kind of you. Unfortunately, I can’t accept this offer. You and I have different shoe sizes.

How do you politely say no to an invitation?

Imagine the situation – your grandmother’s sister’s daughter inviting you to her wedding. You don’t know the person at all, but it is still your family, so you need to refuse in a very polite way. And you are wondering – how do I politely say no? Lucky for you, we have a list of denials specifically for such situations. 

  • I greatly appreciate your invitation, but…

Don’t forget to start with a positive sentence. It will help to make the person feel good about themselves, and they will not be so upset by your answer. For example:

Q: I would be happy to see you at my birthday party next week. 

A: I greatly appreciate your invitation, but I will be out of town next week. 

  • I wish I could come, but…

Another phrase you can use to refuse an invitation. It is very polite, so you can use it to speak with your friend or boss. For example:

Q: Would you be able to come to our training today?

A: I wish I could come, but I’m sick and not feeling well.

  • That’s a very kind invitation, but…

Another perfect way to politely say no. And again, it is suitable for both formal and informal conversations so that it will be practical in different circumstances. For example:

Q: Do you want to have a sleepover with me today?

A: That’s a very kind invitation, but I’m working nights until next week.

How to politely say no when it is just not the right match?

Sometimes, people may offer you something you are not interested in. For example, you hate football, and your friend invites you to the next match. Or when your boss asks you to fill out the accounting report, and you work in the marketing department. Here are the best phrases you can use for such situations:

  • It doesn’t sound like the right fit. 

You can use this informal phrase if you are not interested in the offer. If you want to sound even more polite, you can apologize before saying this expression. For example:

Q: Do you want to go to the Chicago Bulls game tomorrow?

A: I’m sorry, it doesn’t sound like the right fit. I don’t like basketball. 

  • I’m not sure that I’m the best for it. 

This phrase can be a good match if you are looking for examples of how to politely decline . You can use it if someone asks you to do something you think you are not competent at. 

Q: Could you please help me with my makeup?

A: Sorry, I’m not sure I’m the best for it. You can ask Jane – she works at the beauty salon. 

  • It’s not a good idea for me. 

You can use this phrase to refuse an offer or request that is not suitable for you. It is a polite way to protect your interests and not to sound rude. For example:

Q: Do you want to play hockey today?

A: It’s not a good idea for me. I can’t skate.

Informal refusals you can use in a friendly conversation

No matter how much we love our friends, we can’t always accept their offers or requests. But luckily, there are many friendly answers we can use for such situations. So, how do you say no in English less formally and politely? Here are the best phrases: 

  • I’m all set. 

This phrase can be good if you need to decline an offer but don’t want to go into further explanations or continue the conversation. For example: 

Q: Do you need me to bring you anything else?

A: I’m all set, thank you. 

  • No way, Jose. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, this slang phrase is a perfect fit if you want to say no in a very expressive way. For example: 

A: My ex called me yesterday, asking me out. 

Q: What did you say? 

A: No way, Jose!

  • Nah. 

This simple and short phrase is a trendy refusal among youth. Sure, it is not very polite, but still acceptable in a specific situation. For example:

Q: Yo, wanna go for a walk?

A: Nah, I prefer just laying here doing nothing. 

  • Nope, thank you.

Remember this phrase if you are wondering how to say no politely in a text. It is informal, so don’t send this message to your boss. For example:

Q: Wanna come over 2day?

A: Nope, thank you. 

Why is saying no a critical life skill?

Of course, helping others and accepting their offers are essential. Since we live in the society, sometimes we have to adjust or sacrifice our interests depending on the situation. But it is vital to understand that we are losing our true selves by doing this all the time. 

Learning how to politely say no is essential for every accomplished personality. Such a skill has many benefits. You have the choice when you know how to refuse something unsuitable for you. Only you decide what you want to spend your time and energy on. It helps to understand the value of your interests and your life in general. 

When you know how to say No, thank you politely, you set the boundaries and reduce your stress level. Yes, you’ve read it correctly! When only you decide what you want and don’t want to do, your life becomes more pleasant since you don’t have any uncomfortable situations or commitments. 

Another benefit of politely saying no is confidence and respect. When you know how to defend your interests and put yourself first, other people don’t want to use you. They see you as a confident person and respect you for that. And that is why learning how to refuse politely is an essential skill every person should have. 

Learning to refuse with Promova

Of course, setting boundaries and defending your interests are skills you can acquire with the help of psychologists and life experience. But if you already know how to refuse in your native language and are wondering how to do it in English, we have a solution. Whether you are looking for professional help or want to do it all by yourself, Promova has got you covered. 

If you are used to learning everything alone, you can install a convenient Promova app on your phone or tablet and enjoy dozens of lessons divided by topics. If you are looking for the answer to the “How do you say no politely?” question, you can easily find them in the application. 

Another option is for those seeking help from professional tutors. Our experienced teachers will be happy to help you learn new expressions and phrases and implement them in your daily speech. Whether you want to become a part of the group or take personal lessons – you can easily do it with the Promova English-learning platform. So, what are you waiting for? Install the app, or open the website, and start to strengthen your skills today!


As you can see, learning how to say no is crucial. And luckily, the English language is rich in different phrases and expressions you can use in various life circumstances. Whether you want to decline a request from your boss or refuse an invitation, there are always some words that will be suitable for it. And we hope our comprehensive guide will help you deal with it!


Is it essential to be able to say no?

Yes, it is a necessary skill for every accomplished personality. If you know how to say no, you reduce the stress level in your life, always have time for yourself, and have the choice of what to spend your time, energy, and money for. And when other people see how you value yourself, they treat you with deep respect. 

Why is it so hard to say no?

Even though saying no is essential, many people still find it challenging to refuse to their friends, family, or co-workers. And many reasons explain this behavior. First is the fear of confrontation – most people try to avoid conflicts. Another reason is guilt – depending on different situations, we can still feel guilty for saying no. And, of course, the desire to be good – we are always trying to satisfy other people’s requests to make them think that we are good friends. 

How to refuse politely?

So, how do you politely say no? There are many tips. First, endeavor to start your refusal with positive words. Don’t forget to apologize when it’s appropriate. Offer an explanation if the situation allows. And if you want to accept the invitation later, try to make the best decision for both you and your interlocutor. 

How to learn to say no in English?

Suppose you intend to learn it by yourself. In that case, you can install a convenient English-learning app, like Promova, to access unique lessons, valuable exercises, etc., or to find all the information online and practice it when talking to your friends. And if you seek help, you can find an experienced tutor that will provide you with all information you need regarding the topic you are interested in. 


PromovaSep 21st, 2023
Non-verbal cues play a significant role in conveying politeness when refusing something. Firstly, maintaining a friendly and approachable tone of voice is crucial. Speak in a calm and composed manner, avoiding any hint of irritation or impatience. Additionally, if culturally appropriate, maintaining eye contact can signal sincerity and respect. Your facial expressions should be empathetic and understanding, showing that you genuinely appreciate the request. In terms of body language, having an open and non-defensive posture is essential. This includes standing or sitting with relaxed body language, using open gestures, and avoiding crossed arms, which can be seen as defensive. Overall, the goal is to use non-verbal cues to complement your verbal refusal and convey your politeness.
WYATTSep 21st, 2023
The article mentions the importance of body language and tone in polite refusals. How can one convey politeness through non-verbal cues when refusing something?
PromovaJun 22nd, 2023
Yes, cultural considerations and context-specific tips are important to keep in mind while using phrases to refuse politely. It's essential to be aware of cultural norms and customs related to politeness and refusal in different countries or regions. Additionally, understanding the specific context of the situation, such as formal or informal settings, can help you choose the most appropriate phrases and tone when politely refusing. Adapting to cultural nuances and considering the context will contribute to effective and respectful communication.
Ned BraffordJun 22nd, 2023
Are there any cultural considerations or context-specific tips you would suggest keeping in mind while using these phrases to refuse politely?