Saying ‘No’ Politely

    18 December 2020

    Today, we answer a question from Ryan in China. He writes:


    When I want to say "no" with more politeness, what are other expressions I can use? Here are some examples about the situation: When the teacher asks me, "Do you have any questions?" Or when the flight attendant asks me. "Do you need coffee?" Thanks! – Ryan.


    Dear Ryan,

    Thank you for your question. Most Americans speak directly and are not afraid to say "No" in many situations. But we do have ways to be polite -- or show respect for another's feelings. The simplest way to be polite is to say, "No, thank you." Let us look at some other polite ways to say "no."

    Any questions?

    In the case of a teacher asking, "Do you have any questions?" you may want to answer this way:

    No, I do not have any, because your lesson was very clear.

    Another answer you may give is:

    Not now, but I might have some later when I try to do the assignment.

    This leaves open the possibility of asking questions on the subject later.

    More coffee?

    On a plane when a flight attendant asks, "Do you need coffee?" you may hear this answer:

    Thanks, I'm fine.

    Note that the speaker does not use the word "no" but still sends the message that coffee is not wanted. Another answer would suggest something else the attendant can bring.

    No thanks, but I would like some water.

    More difficult situations

    I think that saying "no" may be more difficult in other situations, such as when a friend asks you for a favor. In this case, Americans would usually explain why they cannot help.

    Here is an example:

    Ryan, can I borrow your bicycle tomorrow?

    No, I'm sorry, but I need it to go to my job.

    It is also difficult to say "no" to an invitation. We might say we would like to accept it to be polite. Listen to this example:

    Ryan, can you join us for dinner Saturday?

    I wish I could, but I have other plans.

    Here, you express the idea that you want to accept the invitation but you do not need to give details of your plan.

    I hope this helps the next time you want to give a polite answer to a question, Ryan.

    And that's Ask a Teacher.

    What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

    I'm Jill Robbins.

    Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    polite adj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people

    assignmentn. a job or duty that is given to someone; a task someone is required to do