This is an article I wrote to help with English social skills vocabulary, a version of which was published in The Canadian Immigrant Magazine July/August 2004

I Am Sorry, I Cannot - Saying 'No' with a Smile

by Sally Jennings

You want to refuse, but you don't know the polite phrase. Here are a number of suggestions for saying "no" without offending anyone.

The waiter reaches over to refill a woman's coffee cup, but she quickly says, "No more for me, thank you." The waiter nods and moves on.

"Would you like to go with us?" they ask. The man had a conflicting appointment, but he knew what to say, "I am very sorry, I already have a commitment for that time."

The hot mustard bottle was hovering over the deli sandwich when the woman remembered just in time to tell the sandwich maker, "No mustard for me, thanks." Whew, saved from stomach pains by a few words.

Refusing politely without offending anyone can take a number of forms. When an invitation is given, but you don't want to accept, you can simply say, "Perhaps another time, but this time I am sorry, I have to pass up the opportunity," or "I am sorry, I am really very busy.  I can't go. Would you give me a rain check?" (A "rain check" is a way to say you would like to do a similar activity with the same people in the future.)

"I would love to go next time, but this time I can't make it," is also polite. You may express regret with "I really wish I could, but..." and fill in your excuse. "Thank you for asking me" is also a nice addition or "thanks for the invitation." "Invitation" may be shortened in informal speech to "invite," as in, "Thanks for the invite."

Refusing further food or drink at a meal may be handled by saying, "Nothing more for me, thanks. It was very delicious." Or you could say, "Next time I will save room, but today I can't. The meal was really very good."

When refusing a turn at something in order to give others a chance, you may say, "I am really not very good at that. Would you like to try?" Perhaps you have heard the more colloquial, "I think I'll give that a miss. Would you like to take my place?"

When you are ready to leave a function, let's say a party, it is polite to say, "I must be going now, I had a wonderful time." "I wish I could stay longer, but I have to..." lets them know you still want to spend time in their company, but you have to go for some other reason.

After all, saying "no" politely is all about keeping your communication with others, and your relationships in good shape.

Copyright 2004-2021 Sally Jennings

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