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.
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.
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 come” sounds a little less direct than “I can’t come.”
“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.
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.
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.
Regardless of whether or not you can make it, you want your friend’s event to be a success.
“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.
As they say, “practice makes perfect!” Try to reject the following (pre-)invitations:
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