Lesson Summary 

Saying “NO” is something we do every day. But that doesn’t make it easy and straightforward! This simple word can often be one of the hardest to say!
Especially in English! There are many different ways to say “no” – polite, rude, formal, informal, sarcastic! In this lesson, I’ll show you how to say “NO” in LOTS of different ways in English!

Knowing say “NO” to your boss/colleague/classmate/relative/neighbour can help you to get the outcome you want…. But it’s important to know WHAT to say, HOW to say it and WHEN to say it!

Not only are the WORDS that you choose important when you say NO…
but your TONE of voice and the WAY you say those words is just as important!

So, let’s practice!

CLICK HERE to read the full lesson transcript.

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Video Transcript
Section 1

I’m Emma from mmmEnglish and today we’re going to practise some different ways of saying ‘no’ in English.

Absolutely not!
What? Hell no!
I’m afraid I can’t!
Not in a million years!
I’m all good thanks!
No way!
Forget it!
Yeah right!
I’m afraid that’s not possible!
Nah!
I’d love to, but I can’t.
Fat chance!

Yeah, there are lots of different ways to say ‘no’ in English. Can you think of any others? I’m sure you can think of more! Write them in the comments below this video.

Saying no can sometimes be a difficult thing to do even in your own native language. I don’t like saying no either. I don’t like refusing someone, I don’t want to hurt their feelings. But saying no is a part of life, we say no in so many different ways, at different times of the day. And when you’re learning a language, understanding the nuances of context and tone and body language are so, so important.

It’s so important that you get your message across clearly without offending someone accidentally. Because it’s quite easy to say no in the wrong way in English. And today I’m going to show you a whole lot of different ways to say no, some casual and relaxed, some formal and more polite, and some rude ones which, I think you should try to avoid.

Now before we start saying no, I really want you to think about saying yes to the Lingoda Language Marathon. I’ve just registered yesterday! I spent a week trying to find reasons why I shouldn’t. No I’m too busy or I’m going on holidays right in the middle of it. But then I bit the bullet. I said yes to the full marathon.

If you haven’t heard about the Lingoda Language Marathon, I explain everything in detail up here. But let’s be real, if I’m going to make it through ninety days of language lessons, I’m going to need your support. So I’ve created a popup Facebook group that’s just for mmmEnglish students who’ve also signed up to the Lingoda Language Marathon. This group is so that we can support each other through the marathon, for three months and hopefully, we can all complete the marathon and get our full refund! If you want to join the marathon and take the challenge with me, then use the link and the instructions in the description below and then come find the Facebook group The Lingoda mmmMarathon.

All right today we’re going to talk about a whole bunch of ways to say no in English. Not only are the words that you choose important, when you say no but also your tone of voice and the way that you say those words is also equally as important. Sometimes you really need to say no politely so that you don’t offend someone. And other times you need to be a little more forceful, you need to use a bit of attitude. You’ll see this dial up here to show you how rude or how polite the expression is all the way through this video, all right? And we’re going to practise saying each of these expressions together naturally so that you can make sure you’re saying no the right way.

Hello? Thank you so much for inviting me. I really would love to go, but I can’t make it today. I’ve just got too much on.

I’d love to go, but I can’t

That was a really polite way to say no to someone, to decline an offer from them. Firstly, you’re saying that you really like the sound of the idea, you’d love to do it, but – then you’re adding a ‘but’ – and you’re explaining that you can’t. All right? So it’s quite a polite way of saying no. You’re saying:

I’d love to go, but I don’t finish work until 7.
I’d love to go, but I’ve got to take my son to his football match.

Now there’s quite a bit of flexibility in this expression. You can replace the verb ‘go’ with any verb. So you’re politely turning down someone’s offer. And if you’re responding to something that someone said, you don’t even need to use the verb at all because the action has actually already been made clear when they asked you.

Hey, do you want to hang out this weekend?
I’d love to, but I’m going camping.

The action’s ‘hang out’. So you don’t always need to include the verb. Another way to express the same feeling is to say:

I wish I could, but I can’t

And all of these examples are polite ways of saying no to someone. You know when you genuinely do wish that you could accept their invitation, that you could actually go, but you have to say no. But also, this expression is really useful for those times when someone’s inviting you to something and you really want to go. Maybe you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings or make them feel bad by telling them that you don’t want to go.

So this is a useful expression if you’re talking to someone that you care about or someone that you respect. You could either use it on a friend who you love and you don’t want to disappoint or your boss or a client who you need to treat with respect. So it’s quite versatile like that. By being quite polite it’s also a little formal.

Now let’s talk about how to say this. So when spoken, ‘I’ and ‘would’ are usually contracted. They’re spoken together. It’s a little more natural to say ‘I’d’ instead of ‘I would’ so you’ll hear most native speakers say this. And ‘love’ is a stressed word in this sentence. So it’s said very clearly. ‘to’ is unstressed so the sound reduces down to the schwa. And then, the main verb is. And don’t overlook the importance of the comma here.stressed. You need to pause because the pause is very important. So hear how those sounds reduce.

I’m afraid I can’t…

Shah: I’m going to need you to come into work on Sunday, okay?
Emma: On Sunday? I’m afraid I can’t, I’ve got my parents visiting from interstate.

This one is a little more confusing because usually we think of the word ‘afraid’ as being scared. But we’re not scared in this situation, we just need to say no in a more formal and respectful way. ‘I’m afraid I can’t‘ means I’m sorry to tell you that I can’t. Or I wish I could help you but I can’t.

This expression is often used in more formal situations when you need to decline an invitation or a request from someone important like your boss or another colleague. So it’s perfect to use this expression in a professional context where you need to answer someone respectfully but you need to make it clear that you cannot do something.

Now compare this to our previous expression here, we’re suggesting that we’d really like to do it. Maybe just maybe, there’s a way that you can convince me to do it. But now, we’re actually being quite forceful and direct. ‘I’m afraid I can’t‘ means that you really actually can’t do it. You don’t have any interest in trying to make it happen.

Would you like to join us for dinner tomorrow?
I’m afraid I can’t meet you for dinner tomorrow, I have to work the night shift.

Do you have time to edit this document?
I’m afraid not, I’m late for a meeting.

Have you heard from Peter?
I’m afraid not. His phone’s been dead all morning.

Let’s focus on the pronunciation for a moment. The contraction, ‘I’m’ is unstressed so when it’s spoken by a native speaker, it’s very weak. So that contracted sound really just becomes the consonant only.

I’m all good!

Hey Em, I’m going to grab a coffee, do you want one?
I’m all good, thanks!

It’s not that this phrase is rude but this is quite informal language.

I’m (all) good!
I’m OK!
I’m alright!

Believe it or not, in some contexts, all of these expressions are informal ways of saying no thanks. So all of these expressions are common especially when you’re talking to friends or family or coworkers in a casual context. They’re commonly used when someone offers you something. And less commonly used as a way to respond to an invitation, so I wouldn’t say:

No I’m good, I can’t go to the movies with you tonight…

Right? But I would say:

No I’m good, I don’t need any more coffee today!

If someone offers you a ride to work, but you’d rather walk, you might say:

I’m OK today! I’d rather walk.

Or if you’re Australian or you’re talking to an Australian.. Nah I’m all good.

Now I know that some of you are living in English-speaking countries, and this expression is a useful one to know if you are working in a restaurant and you have the situation where you’re asking a customer if they want to order more food or drinks and they say “I’m all good thanks!”

Well it would be really good to know what that means, right? It means no thanks. It’s a little confusing. Have you ever had a native speaker say something like this to you and you’ve been completely confused by it? If you have, I’d love to hear about it. Tell me in the comments, tell me what happened when you were completely confused.

Now these phrases are often followed by ‘thanks though’ or ‘thanks anyway’

I’m alright, thanks though!
I’m good, thanks anyway!

Adding ‘thanks though’ just helps to soften the expression a little bit and show the person that you appreciate the offer but you’re not interested. So it’s a little more polite. Now I want to highlight how native speakers will say these words because when they come out, they usually sound a bit blurry.

Again, the unstressed contraction reduces down here and we hardly hear it! And because we had a consonant sound at the end of ‘I’m’, in natural pronunciation, we link that consonant sound to the vowel sound following. And this is a really common feature in naturally spoken English.

Native speakers will do this all the time. This lesson here will explain how consonant sounds link to vowel sounds in spoken English. So you can check it out if you want to learn more about it. But again, sometimes the tiny little vowel sound just disappears.

Most importantly for you though is how to hear and recognise these really common casual expressions. So when you hear these sort of muffled expressions, recognise them as people saying no thanks.

Okay now I want you to think about a situation where you need to say no but in a stronger way. Like when there’s no option to negotiate. The answer is just no, right? Like when you’ve worked twelve hours straight and your colleague comes up to you and says “Hey man! Can you cover my shift tomorrow?”

You need to be quite forceful, right? And say something likeAbsolutely not! I’m spending the day with my family tomorrow.”

Absolutely not!

So ‘absolutely not’ is a strong way of saying no. You’re saying there is zero possibility that I’ll change my mind about this and say yes, right? Like if you just got married and your new husband or wife’s best friend asked if they could come with you on the honeymoon.

But even though ‘absolutely not’ is strong, maybe even a little harsh, it’s not necessarily rude, right? And there are a few other ways to say no in a firm way. We can say that the idea is…

(It’s) out of the question…
Under no circumstances…

And these expressions are similar in strength and in meaning but these are also quite serious and more formal expressions.

Under no circumstances can Terry come on our honeymoon! Are you kidding me?

All right, let’s change the tone a little. We want to clearly say no still but we want to say it in a less serious way. Like if your brother said “Can you lend me $10,000?”

Hell no!
No way.
Not in a million years…

Now all of these expressions are a little softer because they’re funny, they kind of make the situation lighter.

You think she’s going to forgive you that easily?
Not in a million years!

Now all of these phrases that I’ve just introduced are firm and strong. But there are some that are appropriate in formal situations and some that aren’t.

So ‘Hell no!’ and ‘Not in a million years!’ are okay for friends and family, informal situations or when someone’s driving you crazy.

And ‘Absolutely not’, ‘Under no circumstances…’ and ‘It’s out of the question’, they’re sort of a bit more formal.

All right so let’s take it one step further.

What? You want me to write your assignment for you? Fat chance!

Like the previous situations, I’m definitely one hundred percent saying no there. But this time I’m responding with sarcasm. Now sarcasm is a type of humour in English where we criticise someone or something in a way that’s quite funny for others but a bit annoying or maybe even embarrassing to the person that you’re criticising. So saying no in a sarcastic way can be rude. It can sometimes be funny but you need to be extremely careful about how you use it because it’s very easy to offend someone.

Now there are a lot of different ways to say no in a sarcastic way. Like:

Fat chance!
Yeah, right!
Not likely…

Can you think of any others? Now all of these expressions are used quite similarly so in a situation when someone asks you a favour that’s too big or too ridiculous. Or maybe they’re just annoying you by asking it.

You think I’m going to go on a date with you after you treated me so rudely? Yeah, right!
You want me to go hiking with you in the pouring rain? Fat chance!
She wants me to pay for her whole family’s meals! Not likely.

But you do need to be careful about how you’re using these expressions. If you’re joking around, they can be really fun. When they’re used in the wrong context, like if your boss came into your office and said “I need that report finished by the end of the day” don’t say “Fat chance!”

Unless you want to be fired!

Right so I introduced a whole lot of different ways of saying no in English and how important it is to learn how to say no in the right way. And I’m sure you’ve heard of many of those expressions before but if there were some new ones that you learnt today, then tell me about them in the comments. Make sure you write about a situation where you think it might be appropriate to use that new expression. I’m going to go down and check out all of those comments once this lesson’s finished.

If you’ve got any questions about saying no in English then drop them in the comments below this video and make sure you hit the subscribe button if you haven’t already, just to show me that you support what I do here at mmmEnglish. You might be interested in this lesson here where I’ll teach you some useful expressions to help you cancel your plans in English or here’s another one that I think you’ll enjoy. I’ll see you in there!

mmmEnglish Video Lessons are a series of video lessons created to build confidence in English learners and focus on English in daily life. Download them and watch them anywhere! Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to be the first to get my new videos, and come and say hi on my Facebook page!!