Everyday English – How to say no politely in English

Are you ever in a situation where you want to say something in English but you don’t have the right words and phrases? This series of conversations will help you to become more confident speaking in different real-life situations. Do the exercises and practise the conversation, then see if you feel more confident! Today’s conversation focuses on how to say no politely in everyday conversation.

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Exercise 1 – Read the 3 short conversations in my photo and answer the questions

  • Who do you think is speaking in each conversation (colleagues, friends, strangers, family)?
  • What does person A need help with?
  • What reason does person B give for not helping?

Exercise 2 – Look at the structure of politely saying no. In English, we tend to give an apology using ‘but’ (e.g. I’d love to but…..) and an excuse/reason. Try to complete the gaps.

  • I ________ but I’ve hurt my back.
  • Sorry ___________ that.
  • I’m ________ __________ rush.
  • I’m ____________ I can’t.
  • _________________ I would.
  • ___________ next time though.

The intonation (pronunciation) and facial expression are also really important in English. We need to look very sorry and have an apologetic tone!! Once you have learnt the phrases above, practise saying them in a mirror or record yourself on your mobile phone to see/hear how you sound. You should look and sound as though you feel very bad that you can’t help!

Exercise 3 – Find a friend, flatmate or family member to practise the conversation with. One person is a) and one person is b). Keep going until you can do it without the photo 🙂 Extra challenge – Now write your own short conversation with different help requests and excuses. Practise your new conversation with your partner.

cropped-speech-bubble.pngHow was it? Feel free to ask me questions if you found it difficult. You can also write your answers to the exercises in the comment box or send me a message 🙂 Remember: Next time somebody asks you for help, try to use this structure and these phrases…..and don’t forget your sorry face!

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Nicki is a Cambridge qualified, experienced English teacher for foreign learners. She loves helping English learners to learn real English and communicate with confidence!

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