Different Ways to say NO in English

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  • Post last modified:10/02/2023
  • Post category:Real English
  • Reading time:7 mins read

English native speakers like to be polite. If you haven’t already visited How to say sorry in English, go and do it now. Here I’m going to teach you different ways to say NO in English. Learn formal and informal ways of saying NO.

 The word NO is very short and negative and emphatic. However, sometimes when we wish to say NO there are more polite ways to do it. I have set out below a number of different ways to say NO in English that you can use in different circumstances. Examples are given to help to explain the meaning better. Sometimes when we want to say NO we try not to be rude or to hurt someone’s feelings so we prefer to use a variety of words that still mean NO. Here are some useful English words and expressions that mean NO.

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Polite Ways to Say NO in English

I AM AFRAID NOT – This is probably one of the most polite ways to say NO in English. You may be asked to go to a party or meet your friends for something to eat. You would like to go but for some reason you are unable to attend. In this situation you can turn down the invitation in a polite way.

For example,  your friend Mary asks: “Are you going to come to the party tonight in Ian’s house?” “I am afraid not I promised to babysit for my Aunt and I cannot let her down.”

NOT REALLY – Not quite, not particularly. In this situation you are asked what you might like to do. You would prefer to do something else or indeed you might prefer to do nothing. Here you can use the phrase Not Really.

For example, Irina asks whether you would like to go to the cinema to see the new James Bond movie. You would prefer to stay in . You reply “not really I would prefer to stay at home tonight I have an early start tomorrow.”

Ways to Say NO in English - Infographic

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POSSIBLY/PROBABLY NOT – Where you may not feel that you are likely to succeed but you are still going to try then you can use either Probably or Possibly not.

For example, you are about to take your driving test. Your friend asks you whether you will pass it. You can reply “probably not but I will try my best”.

You can also use perhaps not with the same meaning.

For example, will Javier pass that maths test? I am not sure, perhaps not but he is studying hard.

NOT TO MY KNOWLEDGE – This is a much more formal denial. This would be best used in a business context where you do not really know the person, to whom you are talking, very well.

For example, David comes into your office to ask if the latest shipment from London has arrived. “Not to my knowledgebut I was away yesterday so it could have come in when I was not here. I will check and get back to you.”

Less Polite Ways to Say NO in English

CERTAINLY NOT – This is a much more firm denial or refusal and can be used when you want the person you are talking to, to be clear as to what you mean.

For example, your son asks you if he can cycle to his friends house to watch the match. You reply: “Certainly not. The match ends at 11 pm and you have school tomorrow and it is too dangerous to cycle back home so late.” There is no doubt that you mean no.

YOU MUST BE JOKING – When you cannot believe that someone is serious about something you can use the phrase you must be joking or you’re joking? (no !).

For example, your wife tells you that your neighbours are getting divorced. “Wow, you’re joking ? They only got married 2 years ago. What happened?”

NO WAY! – Sometimes said as a joke or also as a more serious statement. Usually used to tell somebody that you cannot agree with what they have said.

For example, your friend asks you to lend him €50 . You reply: “No way! I still didn’t get back the last €50 I lent you last month!!”


Your friend Michael calls you to tell you he is leaving his job to go back to University to become a pilot. You reply: “No way! That is great news. It’s what you always wanted to do.”

English Vocabulary Phrases to Learn

to turn down – to refuse
to let somebody down – to disappoint somebody
shipment – delivery

That’s it for today. Make sure to use other ways to say NO in English in your next conversation.

More Information

For more information on English Phrasal Verbs, English Idioms and English Grammar Rules, check out the following links:

Common English Idioms about Knowledge

How to use Phrasal Verbs with COME?

Present Simple vs Present Continuous

Intermediate English learners! Here is your chance to master English Grammar Tenses so you can speak English fluently and with confidence, sign up for 3 hour English Grammar Rules Refresher Course. Click on the link to read more.

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