’No’ is a tricky word in English. If you say “No” by itself, you’re likely to sound irritated or even angry. I call it the Naked No. If a Brit uses the naked No, you can safely assume that you’re in trouble.  

So what should you do if you need to say ‘No’? Well, then it’s useful to have a couple of alternatives ready, like these:

  1. I’m afraid we won’t be able to do that
  2. Unfortunately that won’t be possible
  3. I’m sorry, we no longer offer that product
  4. I would love to be able to help you, but…..
  5. I’m really sorry, but we aren’t able to….
  6. That’s an interesting approach, let us have a think about that
  7. Could you tell me some more about your aim with this?

You basically use (a combination of) these strategies:

  • Use a softener to start a sentence, such as “I’m afraid” or “I’m sorry”
  • It’s important that it doesn’t seem like you’re unwilling to do something. It’s better to suggest that you are unable to do something.   
  • Delay in a polite way
  • Ask questions to get more clarity, so that you can reject something after thinking about it.

Hmm, writing this down needs a lot of words and it’s difficult to explain it clearly. That’s how native English works. Expect to use more words that you might need in your own language, especially if you want to say something negative. It’s more important to  be careful than clear!

Have you ever said “No” in English which didn’t go as expected? What happened?