saying no in English

Saying no in English without offending people!

Are you ever in a situation where you want to say something in English but you don’t have the right words and phrases? Well, today’s conversation focuses on saying no in English in a way that is polite and won’t offend anybody!

1) A quick bit of reading

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?
saying no in English

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.

3) Practise your pronunciation:

The intonation (pronunciation) and facial expression are also REALLY important in English. We need to look very sorry and have an apologetic tone!! Listen to hear how I say them:

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!

How was it? Leave me a comment below if you liked these phrases for saying no in English. Remember: Next time somebody asks you for help or a favour, 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!

8 thoughts on “Saying no in English without offending people!

  1. No is always difficult to say. They are very useful phrases indeed!

    1. It is! So pleased you found these phrases helpful Grace 🙂 thank you for the feedback!

  2. Excuse me teacher, I ‘ ve got a questíon for you:

    1- Can I say:

    We do need to say no to the People


    We have to say no to the people.


    Regards Teacher

    1. Great question. ‘we have to say no’ is usually perfect. In this context, I used ‘we do need to’ because I wanted to emphasize. To emphasize, we can use the auxiliary verb. I hope that clarifies it for you 🙂

  3. Hello Nicky! Someday i’d like to eat easter eggs in Uk with my family and youn hahah. I hope you have had an excellent time this week.

    1- In the conversatiob 1: A neighbor or a friend
    Conversation 2: A passerby or a classmate in the University.
    Conversation 3: A Boss talking to his workers.

    2- What does person A need help with?
    A- The person needs to moving house.
    B- This person needs to collect money to make a gap years abroad
    C- It’s possible that the Boss needs a lot workers to increase the production this weekend.

    3-What reason does person B give for not helping?
    A- He would, but he’s hurt his back. Sorry about that.
    B- Sorry. I can’t stop. Im in a rush
    C- Oh i’m afraid I can’t…otherwise..I would..sorry about that.

    2) Look at the structure of politely saying no in English:
    •I would
    •I can’t stop
    •I’m in a rush
    •I’m afraid I can’t otherwise I would
    •Sorry about that definitely néstor time though.

    I’m looking forward your comments Nicki

    God bless you!


    1. Wow Jimy! You really worked hard at this lesson, well done! 🙂 Yes, your answers are spot on! For question 1, 3C I would say the reason is his parents are visiting but other than that, fantastic work. I hope you found these phrases and the pronunciation exercise useful. Hopefully you will get a chance to use them in the future! PS Yes, lovely Easter holidays thank you 🙂

  4. This is so useful! Thank you Nicki! I won’t forget my sorry face!!

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