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.

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!

3) Practise your speaking

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]

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!

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