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Ever struggled to decline an invitation or say “No” to an offer? This quick video gives you tons of ways to say “No” in American English!
When you have to say NO, sometimes you want to add nuance. How can you say ‘no’ without being rude? Also, what do Americans really mean when they say “I don’t think so”? Do they mean no? There are lots of ways you can say ‘no’ while being kind and showing appreciation.
When I was living in Germany, I was frustrated that I didn’t have any phrases to use in these kinds of situations. I wished I had various ways to say ‘no’ or to turn down an invitation. Today we’re going to go over lots of ways to say ‘no’ in English, in various situations.
Situation 1: You’re out to eat and you’ve eaten, and your server asks if you’d like dessert, or if you’d like to see a dessert menu, or if there’s anything else you’d like to order.
You could say a simple:
No, thank you.
or No thanks.
OR, I don’t think so.
We often use ‘I don’t think’ to mean we’re not sure.
Rachel, do they sell diapers at the corner store?
I don’t think so, but I’m not sure.
Are they open late? I don’t think so. Again, that means probably not, but I’m not 100% sure.
So if we’re asked if we know something, and we’re not sure, we can say “I don’t think so.” But if we’re asked if we WANT something, “I don’t think so” simply means ‘no’.
Do you want to try this on in another size? I don’t think so.
Do you want dessert? I don’t think so.
Do you want to supersize that order? I don’t think so.
Situation 2: Someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do or can’t do. This could be a colleague at work asking you to work on a project, or someone, say, at church asking if you can do something. Can you help plan the retreat this year. This is, someone asks you to do something extra, to take on an extra task or extra work. Not something social. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Here are some phrases you could use to turn down something like this:
Sorry, I’ve got too much going on already.
Sorry, I can’t take on any extra work.
Sorry, I can’t take on any extra work. Take on, a phrasal verb. Sorry, I can’t take on any extra work.
Sorry, I don’t have time.
Sorry, I don’t have time. That one is nice and simple. Sorry, I don’t have time.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to have time to do that.
Unfortunately, I can’t take that on. Using the word ‘unfortunately’ shows that you have some level of disappointment. It’s something you’d like to do, or you can see that it would be good for you to do, or you can see that you’re disappointing someone by saying no. Unfortunately, I can’t.
You could also say:
I’d like to, but I’ve got too much on my plate to take that on. Too much on my plate – that’s an idiom that means you’re busy, and last week I did a video that went over 16 different ways to say you’re busy. Often, when you decline something you add that you’re busy or what your plans are, so check out that video if you haven’t already. You’ll learn some great phrases to use when you need to decline something.
You could say, “I don’t think I can make that work.”
I don’t think I can make that work.
Again, we’re using “I don’t think” here to mean “no.” It’s sort of a softer way than just saying a flat ‘no’. Rachel, can you help set up for the event on Monday? I don’t think I can make that work. Sorry.
Hey, can you stay the night for a client phone call?
I don’t think I can make that work. I have to pick up my kid at six.
You could say, “not this time” if it’s something you’re interested in in the future. You could even say something like “Not this time, but please ask me again. I’d like to try to do that next time.”
You could also try showing your appreciation. For example: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t.” OR, “I’m honored, but I can’t.” OR, “I’d really like to, but I can’t make it work this time.” These all have ‘but’. These kind of statement plus ‘but’, is something we would use a lot in social situations with friends, too.
That brings us to Situation 3: A friend asks you to do something social, but you can’t. Maybe you’re too busy or you’ve already got plans.
You could say:
“I wish I could! But ___” and your excuse. I wish I could, but we have guests in town then. Or, I wish I could, but I’m busy tonight.
So, “I wish I could” plus your excuse. I could replace “I wish I could” with “I’d love to”
or “That sounds lovely”.
That sounds lovely, but I’ll be out of town, or, I already have plans, or, but I’m helping my friend move that day.
You could also say: I’d like to, but I’m not free tonight.
I’d like to, but I’m not free tonight.
Oh, it’s out of tune. I’d like to, but I really can’t make it work this time.
Or, what about this one: Shoot, that sounds fun. Sorry I can’t make it. Or, Sorry I can’t come.
You get the idea. Situation 4: you get a phone call, a sales call, someone wants to talk to you about switching phone companies. Or, you’re walking down the street and someone wants to sell you something or have you give money to their charity. You can be brief.
You can simply say: Sorry, or, not today. Or, I’m not interested, thanks.
There are lots of different ways to express “no”. Memorizing some of these phrases will make easier for you to decline an invitation or not to do something you’re asked to do. It feels nice to have creative ways to express yourself, other than a blunt “no”, doesn’t it?
Here’s last week’s video on ways to say you’re busy. Lots of really useful phrases and idioms there. If you’ve already seen that one, then check out another Rachel’s English video in the suggested videos. And don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already. What other situations do you need English phrases for? Let me know in the comments below. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.