Welcome back to another fun lesson, a little one. And today I’m going to give you five key sentences, which you can use when you want to politely refuse someone. Now you could use this in an invitation, so maybe they’re inviting you to go out somewhere or to come to their house or in the sense that they want to spend more time with you.
These are sentences to use in your personal situation, but you could pivot them. So turn them a little bit with a little bit of twisting and use them in a business situation as well for a, um, someone you kind of know a little bit, not a formal business setting. So let’s start with number one.
” Can I get back to you on that?”
Now this is something that you would say in response to someone asking you a question, for example, “Are you free this Friday?”
“Are you free this Friday?”
That is someone inviting you. And if you’re not too sure, you could say something like,
“Oh, can I get back to you on that?”
But then you never get back to them unless when you do get back to them. It’s after the Friday. And then you could say,
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t get back to you. I’m so sorry, I forgot but can I get back to you on that”
Because sometimes people use this phrase and they do get back to someone. They either phone them or they see them at work or wherever in the street or out in town. And then they say,
” Oh yeah, you know, you invited me, um, on Friday.”
” Yeah. What time?”
” Eight o’clock!”
So you could use it in that way, but let’s use it as that, get out of meeting them.
Practice using these 5 key sentences below in a variety of situations, to get your English, tip-top!
How to politely refuse an invitation in English
- Can I get back to you on that?
- Let me check with my other half.
- I think i’m scheduled to work then.
- I’ve already accepted an invitation for a work thing and i’m not sure that I can get out of it.
- Oh thanks! But I’m late for a meeting. Can I let you know?
In typical English culture, it is considered the ‘norm’ to be polite. Stating a direct yes or no would be considered impolite.
There is also the notion of what we call in English ‘face saving’. These are verbal statements which affect directly or indirectly the relationship between the two people communicating. Therefore English politeness allows one or both parties to ‘save face’ when they are communicating, another way of doing this is by a term called hedging.
Hedging is a linguistic device in English. It’s function is to avoid unpleasant, impolite or language that is too direct. The devices maintain politeness by demonstrating indirectness. In short hedging makes what we say, less direct.
The most common types of use of hedging in English are: modal expressions, tense and aspect, verbs and vague language. For example. Instead of saying to someone at work who has done something incorrectly:
” I want to speak to you right now.”
An example of hedging in use would be:
” Hello, John, I wondered if I could have a word with you please, later on today.”
The second example is far less abrupt than the first one. It is also more likely to get a far positive response.
Vague language is often used in English language and as such it is one of the most difficult aspects of the English language for learners to learn because it is, well so vague.
An example in use of this would be:
” No, I’m sorry but I don’t agree with you.”
Instead one might say instead:
” It’s sort of difficult to say really isn’t it?” Which ends with a rhetorical question.
Verbs are also used to accommodate hedging. Often verbs are used to minimise a more direct action. For example, instead of saying to someone:
” You are not working well, so you must leave the company.”
Verbs can be used to frame a less direct statement such as:
“We feel that at this time your skill set doesn’t match what we need so we will be letting you go at the end of the month.”
– A far less damming way of telling someone that they have just been fired, don’t you think?
Now reflect on your own language and how communicate in different situations. By comparison would you say that the culture of your language is more direct than English or less direct.
Let us know in the comments.