Don't be that awkward person who doesn't know how to say "no".
Rejecting an invitation can be an uncomfortable moment, even in your first language, and when you’re doing it in a second language, using the right tone or words can be a challenge. You may have a real reason why you cannot accept the invitation, or you may just not want to attend – either way, you can use one of the following phrases to help you reject the invitation in a polite and respectful way.
Telling Someone You Cannot Attend
You can use the expressions below when someone invites you to do something, but you cannot attend. It’s polite to show that you were interested in the plans and that you feel disappointment about not joining.
a) “I wish I could, but unfortunately…”
I wish I could join you, but unfortunately, I already have plans.
b) “That sounds like fun, but unfortunately…”
Oh, that sounds like fun, but unfortunately, I’m out of town right now visiting my parents.
c) “I’d love to, but…”
I’d love to go to your party, but I need to attend a wedding that day.
d) “I’m afraid I can’t this time”
I’m afraid I can’t join you this time, but hopefully next time!
e) “Thank you for inviting me”
Unfortunately, I can’t join this time, but thank you for inviting me.
f) “Please let me know if you do it again”
I’m sorry I can’t join, but please let me know if you do it again.
g) “I’ll definitely join you next time, though.”
Unfortunately, I have plans for that day. I’ll definitely join you next time though.
How to Communicate a Sudden Cancellation
When you originally made plans with someone and then you find out that you cannot keep those plans, you can use one of the phrases below to politely inform the other person that you have to cancel:
a) “Sorry, but something’s come up, so….”
Hi, sorry but something’s come up, so I won’t be able to meet with you today.
b) “I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make it.”
I know we had plans tonight but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make it. My son is feeling sick.
c) “It looks like I’ll have to cancel.”
It looks like I’ll have to cancel. My boss asked everyone to stay for a meeting this evening.
d) “I’m sorry to back out, but…”
I’m sorry to back out but my car has a problem and I need to take it to be repaired.
1. Imagine that someone said the following phrases to invite you to something and write how you would respond to them.
a) Some of us are going out for drinks after work. Do you want to join us?
b) I’m having a barbecue on Saturday. It would be great if you could come!
c) My wife and I are planning to go to the beach festival tomorrow. Do you have plans?
d) We’re going out for lunch to the new restaurant across the street. Do you want to come?
2. Imagine that you had accepted the invitations above, but now you have to cancel those plans. Write what you would say to cancel those plans.
a) “Unfortunately, I can’t join this time, but thank you for inviting me!”
b) “That sounds like fun, but unfortunately my daughter has a soccer game that day.”
c) “I wish I could, but unfortunately I already have plans.”
d) “I’d love to, but I have a lot of work to do.”
a) “It looks like I’ll have to cancel, sorry. Have a good time though.”
b) “I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it. Sorry. My sister needs me to babysit her kids.”
c) “Sorry but something’s come up, so I have to cancel, but I hope you enjoy the festival!”
d) “I’m sorry to back out, but I got an important call from a client, so I have to stay here.”