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How to Avoid Answering Sensitive Questions

How to Avoid Answering Sensitive Questions

Has anyone ever asked you a question you didn't want to answer? Maybe the question was too personal or you didn't know the person who asked you very well. Or the answer could even have been embarrassing and you didn't want to say it.  

Most people have probably been in a situation like this before - whether it's at work, at a social event, or even with friends and family members. So how can you respond to these questions in English?

Saying “No”

In most situations, you should not have to give information you are uncomfortable giving. The most direct way to do this is to simply say that you will not answer the question. However, even though you are saying "no," you can still do it politely.

I'm sorry, but I'd prefer not to say.
I'm sorry, but I don't want to share that information.
I don't mean to be rude, but I don't want to answer that question.

In more casual situations, you can replace "I'm sorry" with "No offense."

No offense, but I'd rather not say.

Being vague

Another way to deal with unwanted questions is to give only some information to the other person. This is called being "vague," which means "unclear or uncertain." Expressions like "Let's just say" and "All I will say" are common ways to be vague in both formal and informal situations.

How much did that jacket cost?
Let's just say it cost more than my old one.

In some cultures, it is impolite to ask questions about money. With this response, Nelly has given Don a little bit of information without saying the exact price of the jacket.

Did the negotiation go well?
All I will say is that both sides are happy with the result.

Jo's vague response lets Sam know the negotiation was successful without giving important business details that may be private.

In addition to your vague answer, you can change the subject by adding a comment or question of your own.

Let's just say it cost more than my old one. That's a nice jacket that you're wearing.
All I will say is that both sides are happy with the result. Anyway, how is business with you?

Returning the question

Instead of refusing to answer or being vague, another thing you can do is ask the other person why they want this information from you. Be sure to do this with a smile and polite tone of voice.

Do you live in this neighborhood?
Why do you want to know?
May I have your phone number?
Can I ask why you need that information?

In some cases, the other person may realize that their question was too sensitive or personal for you. However, this doesn't always happen! Some people can be "nosy," which is an adjective that means "too curious or interested in other people's lives." If they still want you to answer their question, you can use one of the examples from earlier in the article to politely refuse to answer.

How to politely ask your own questions

Now, let's look at some ways to ask questions that don't make others uncomfortable. If you would like to ask something, but you aren't sure if it is too sensitive, try using one of the following examples.

Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?
I hope I'm not being rude by asking you…
Is it OK if I ask you about…?

With these expressions, you make it easier for the other person to refuse if they do not want to answer.


Learning how to avoid difficult or inappropriate questions is a useful communication skill in any language. Remember not to feel pressured to share information you do not want to share. With the expressions we’ve shown here, you can politely let the other person know that you would like to keep some things private.