How to Say No Politely: 50 Polite Ways to Say No in English

Woman signing no with her hands

When speaking English, knowing how to say no politely can be uncomfortable for some people. After all, you don’t want to sound rude. Fortunately, there are polite ways to say no and impolite ways to say no (we will focus on the former). In this guide, we are going to show you how to say no politely with more than 50 different examples!

(Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on ‘How to say ‘No Politely’:

‘How to Say No Politely’:

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When speaking English, many non-native speakers feel insecure about saying no to people. After all, you don’t want to sound rude. Fortunately, there are polite ways to say no and impolite ways to say no (we will focus on the former). In this guide, we are going to show you how to say no politely with more than 50 different examples!

Why is it so difficult to say no?

The inability to say no is more common than you may realize. Whether you want to keep your boss happy or avoid hurting a friend’s feelings, it can be hard to say no. However, saying no isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, many Yes/No Questions simply require information. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Have you ever been to France? Answer: No, I’ve never been to France.
  • Question: Do you have to work tomorrow? Answer: No, I don’t have to work tomorrow.
  • Question: Were you born in September? Answer: No, I was not born in September.

In all of these situations, it’s pretty easy to say no! However, it becomes difficult to say no when people make requests or ask for your personal opinion. Let’s look at a few difficult examples:

  • Question: Do you want to go on a date with me? Answer: No, I don’t want to go on a date with you.
  • Question: Can you do me a favor? Answer: No, I can’t do you a favor.
  • Question: Do you like my cooking? Answer: No, I don’t like your cooking.

As you can see, answering honestly and directly can sound rude. This is why it is so difficult to say no at times! You don’t want to sound mean or hurt the other person’s feelings. As a result, you may feel like you need to lie just to be polite.

Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to lie. There are plenty of polite ways to say no without sounding like a jerk. In fact, we have more than 50 polite ways to say no in English!

Illustration of a man thinking of polite ways to say no in english

10 Tips to Help You Say No Politely

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In part one of this guide, we will offer 10 tips for how to say no politely. In part two, we will provide you with an additional 50 examples of polite ways to say no in English. So, let’s get started!

1. Add Thank You To Your Answer

One of the easiest ways to say no politely is to add thank you. However, you have to keep in mind that this won’t work in every situation. It only works when someone offers you something that you can either accept or refuse. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Do you want my help? Answer: No, thank you.
  • Question: Do you want a slice of cake? Answer: No, thank you.
  • Question: Can I give you a ride? Answer: No, thank you.

Adding thank you to your answer shows that you appreciate the offer, allowing you to say no without sounding rude.

2. Say No Without Saying No

Oftentimes, the best way to refuse an offer is to find another word to say no. This works especially well if you’re trying to figure out how to say no in business settings. Thankfully, saying no without saying no is easier than it sounds. How you word your answer will depend on the context and the question, so let’s look at a few examples:

  • Question: Can you help me write this report? Answer: Unfortunately, I can’t at the moment.
  • Question: Did my presentation go well? Answer: I think there was room for improvement in some areas.
  • Question: Do you want to have lunch with me? Answer: Sadly, I can’t right now.

As you can see, the word “no” doesn’t appear in any of the answers. However, it is implied and softened. Using words like sadly, unfortunately, and regrettably can also help you sound more polite.

3. Say Sorry

Apologizing is a great way to show that you feel bad for saying no. Additionally, it can function as another word to say no, which automatically softens your answer. However, like thank you, saying sorry only works when someone makes an offer that you can either accept or refuse. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Can we talk? Answer: Sorry, I can’t right now.
  • Question: Do you want to see a movie? Answer: I’m sorry, but I can’t today.
  • Question: Do you have time to review my notes? Answer: Sorry, but I don’t.

So, if you’re worried about refusing someone’s offer, apologize first to avoid hurting their feelings!

4. Provide a Reason for Saying No

It’s easy to say “no, I can’t” or “No, thank you,” but doing this may lead to follow-up questions. People will often want to know why you’re refusing their offer. So, provide a reason for saying no. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Can you watch my dog tomorrow? Answer: Actually, no. I have to work tomorrow.
  • Question: Do you have time to help me with something? Answer: Sorry, but I don’t. I’ve got a million errands to run today.
  • Question: Would you mind washing the dishes? Answer: I can’t. I have a huge project due tomorrow.

Providing a reason for saying no reduces the risk of follow-up questions. It also doesn’t make it seem like you’re saying no just to be mean. You actually have an excuse!

5. Lengthen Your Answer

Giving one-word answers is often seen as rude, regardless of what you say. It makes it seem like you’re disinterested in the other person or trying to cut the conversation short. So, if you need to say no, don’t just say no and move on. Try to lengthen your answer to sound friendlier. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Do you think I deserve a promotion? Answer: I’m not sure. You do an amazing job, but there are a lot of great people trying to get the same promotion.
  • Question: Will you accompany me to the meeting? Answer: No, because I have to pick up a few things from my office first. But I’ll see you there!
  • Question: Should I ask my boss for a raise? Answer: No, but not because you don’t deserve it. The company is not doing very well right now, so your boss will probably say no anyway. I would just wait and ask for one at your next performance evaluation!

In the examples above, you can see that lengthening your answer gives you the opportunity to provide more details and add a friendly ending!

6. Emphasize Your Honesty

In many cases, your efforts to avoid saying no can do more harm than good. People might know that you’re avoiding telling the truth to spare their feelings. As you can imagine, the other person might be more hurt that you’re lying to them. Instead, just tell the truth and emphasize that you’re being completely honest. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Do you like what I’m wearing? Answer: Honestly, I’m not a big fan of plaid.
  • Question: Is my writing good enough to get published? Answer: I want to be honest with you. I think you need to practice your craft more before getting published.
  • Question: Can I borrow your car? Answer: If I can be honest with you, I really don’t feel comfortable letting other people drive my car.

Sometimes, honesty really is the best policy!

7. Answer With a Question

When you need to say no, answering a question with a question can divert attention away from your answer. It may sound like you’re avoiding the question, but it’s simply one more way to say no implicitly. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Are you worried about your presentation? Answer: Should I be worried about my presentation?
  • Question: Do you want to go see a movie? Answer: Do YOU want to go see a movie?
  • Question: Can you help me finish this sandwich? Answer: Do you think I need the extra calories?

This forces the other person to answer the question while also implying that you’re not interested in their offer!

8. Set Your Own Terms

When someone asks you to do something, you may just want to delay accepting. You might want to fulfill their request at a later date or in a different way. So, rather than just saying no, you can set your own terms. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Do you want to go shopping tomorrow? Answer: Actually, I can’t tomorrow. Do you want to go this weekend instead?
  • Question: Can you help me with this? Answer: Not right now, but I can in a few hours.
  • Question: Would you help me review my application? Answer: I’ve got a headache. Let’s review it when I’m feeling better.

When someone is making a request or asking for a favor, it’s not impolite to make a counter-offer. This way you don’t have to say no at all!

9. Replace No With Maybe

Depending on the question, it may be hard to say no without sounding impolite. So, rather than giving a definitive answer to the question, soften your answer by leaving the door open to say yes. You’re not saying yes; you’re just saying that there’s a possibility that you could say yes. Here are a few examples:

  • Question: Can you give me a ride to the airport? Answer: Possibly. What time is your flight?
  • Question: Can you help me move into my new apartment? Answer: Maybe. When are you moving?
  • Question: Do you want to have dinner together? Answer: I’m not sure. I’m feeling a little under the weather today.

When you replace no with maybe (or a similar phrase), you usually need to request more information or provide a reason for saying maybe.

10. Use a Polite Tone

At the end of the day, your tone is just as important as the words you say. Being polite requires a tone that shows that you want to be friendly, even when you have to say no. It’s difficult to understand tone in text, but here are a few examples that allow you to sound extra friendly:

  • Question: Would you let me borrow your notes? Answer: No, but only because I didn’t take good notes! I’m a little embarrassed about it…
  • Question: Can you help me talk to my boss? Answer: Sorry, but I don’t think so. I’m not good in high-pressure situations!
  • Question: Should I wear this to my date? Answer: No! You should wear something that complements your eyes!

As you can see, even if you have to use the word “no,” you can do so with a friendly tone!

50 Polite Ways to Say No in English

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Now that we’ve covered some good tips for how to say no in different situations, it’s time to look at even more ways to say no politely. The phrases below are common ways to say no without hurting anyone’s feelings. So, let’s get started!

Say No When You’re Too Busy

  1. I’m afraid I can’t.
  2. I don’t think I’ll be able to.
  3. I would if I could, but I can’t.
  4. I wish I could!
  5. Unfortunately, I can’t.
  6. I can’t take on anything else at the moment.
  7. I’ve got too much on my plate right now.
  8. I’m already booked with someone else.
  9. My schedule is completely full.
  10. I have another commitment.
  11. I have something else at that time.
  12. My schedule won’t allow it.
  13. I checked my calendar and I can’t do it.
  14. I have a commitment that I can’t get out of.

Say No and Apologize

  1. Sorry, but I’m swamped (busy) right now!
  2. Sorry, but it just won’t work for me.
  3. Sorry, but I have something else.
  4. Sorry, but I can’t make it.
  5. My apologies, but I can’t right now.
  6. My apologies, but it’s not possible.
  7. I don’t think it will work. I’m sorry.
  8. I can’t. My apologies.

Say No With Humility and Appreciation

  1. I don’t think I’m the right person for that.
  2. I think you can find a better person for the job.
  3. I don’t have the right skills.
  4. I don’t have the personality for it.
  5. Thanks for the invitation, but I can’t make it.
  6. Thank you for asking, but I can’t.
  7. I appreciate the offer, but I just can’t.
  8. You know I’d love to, but I can’t.
  9. I wish there were two of me, then I could do it!
  10. Darn! I wish I had known about it sooner!
  11. Darn! I could have if you had asked me earlier!
  12. Shoot! I can’t this time.

Say No On Your Own Terms

  1. I’m not sure if that’s a good idea for me.
  2. I really shouldn’t.
  3. I can’t, but maybe another time.
  4. Could we do it another time?
  5. Let me think about it.
  6. I’ll get back to you.
  7. Not this time.
  8. Let’s take a rain check.
  9. I’d rather not.
  10. I’ll have to say no this time.
  11. I’ll have to pass this time.
  12. Ask me again in a week/month.
  13. It’s not a good time for me.
  14. Maybe later on when I have more time.
  15. I have to take care of a few things first.
  16. I won’t be able to.

We hope you found this guide on how to say no politely useful! With the phrases above, you now have more than 50 different ways to say no in English without hurting anyone’s feelings! As always, for all things English conversation, grammar, or job-related, visit the Magoosh Speaking blog!

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