An English-speaking friend has just invited you to a picnic. Or a birthday party. Or a wedding. But unfortunately, you can’t go or just aren’t interested. What do you say?
Many English language learners might say, “No, I can’t come. I’m busy then.”
While this works, it’s not the best response. Most likely, the event matters a lot to your friend, so it’s best to decline the invitation in a more gentle way to avoid hurting their feelings. So below are our top five tips for nicely saying “no” to invitations in English.
1. Decline the Pre-Invitation
If someone wants to invite you to something in a conversation, they’ll most likely first ask something like: “What are you doing (tonight, this weekend, etc)?” This is called the “pre-invitation.” For example:
If you know you’re going to be busy and want to avoid any invitations, you can hint that you already have plans.
2. Say That You Can’t Go
A study at the Harvard Business School found that when making excuses, it’s better to focus on reasons outside your control. So when possible, try to show that you’re rejecting the invitation not because you want to, but because you need to.
I won’t be able to ...
“I won’t be able to come” sounds a little less direct than “I can’t come.”
- I have a business trip then and won’t be able to come. Sorry!
- Unfortunately, I won’t be able to come. Hope it goes well!
I’ll have to ...
- Sorry, but it looks like I’ll have to miss your baby shower. I have a doctor’s appointment that day.
- I’ll have to pass. I have an online English lesson scheduled for that time.
Sorry, I can’t. / I can’t, sorry.
“Sorry, I can’t” is a casual way to turn someone down. It might seem direct, but it’s actually not. It means “Sorry, I can’t (come to your party) and I feel bad,” and it’s usually accompanied by an apologetic tone and a sad face.
- Sorry, I can’t! I’m up to my ears in work.
- I can’t, sorry. Thursday just won’t work for me.
3. Show That You’re Interested
This might sound confusing. After all, if you’re rejecting an invitation, why show interest? Well, if someone was nice enough to invite you to something, it’s polite to show that you’re interested even if you can’t go. Here are some ways to do this.
I’d love to, but … / I wish I could, but …
- I’d love to come, but I’m behind on work and don’t think I can make it. Sorry!
- I wish I could, but I’m working my shift at the coffee shop then.
If I’d known earlier/sooner ...
- If I had known sooner, I’d definitely have made time for this!
- If only I’d known earlier! Would have come for sure!
(I’m) Sad …
- So sad I’m missing your big day. Make sure to post lots of pictures!
- Sad I can’t make it to your concert. Let me know how it goes!
4. Say You Already Have Plans
If you need to miss something important, it’s best if you can provide specific reasons. For example, some of the example sentences above have mentioned sickness, business trips, moving, and other reasons for not being able to attend something.
However, if the invitation isn’t for any major event or you simply prefer not to get into details, you can vaguely say you have plans or won’t be present with the following expressions.
I already have plans. / I’ve already made plans.
- I already have plans that evening. Sorry!
- Would love to come, but I’ve already made vacation plans that week!
I’ve already committed to something (else).
- Unfortunately, I’ve already committed to something else this Wednesday. How about the same time next Wednesday?
- I just committed to something that day, so I’ll have to pass.
I’m away. / I’m out of town.
- I’m away this whole week. Let’s catch up next week?
- Sorry, we’ll be out of town then.
5. Thank the Host & Wish Them Well
Regardless of whether or not you can make it, you want your friend’s event to be a success.
Thanks for … / I appreciate .... / It’s kind of you to ...
- Thanks for the invitation. Really appreciate you thinking of me!
- Unfortunately, we’ve already made other plans, but thanks for thinking of us!
- We’ll be out of town then unfortunately, but it’s really kind of you to invite us over to your place!
I hope … / I’m sure …
- I can’t go, but I hope it goes well!
- I can’t come to your art gallery opening, but I’m sure it’ll be a success!
I’ll be there in spirit!
“I’ll be there in spirit” is a nice way to say “I won’t be there.” “In spirit” means that even if you’re not there physically, you’ll be thinking of the friend who invited you and supporting them from afar.
- I’m sad I can’t make it to your concert, but I’ll be there in spirit.
- I can’t come to your wedding in person, but I’ll definitely be there in spirit!
As they say, “practice makes perfect!” Try to reject the following (pre-)invitations:
- Do you have any plans this weekend?
- I’m playing basketball with some friends tomorrow night. We need one more person. Wanna join?
- Wanna come over to my place for dinner this Friday? I’ve invited a few close friends of mine and I think you’ll like them too!
- I’m performing in a musical this weekend. Do you wanna come? I can give you a free ticket.
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