Better Ways to Say Yes, No, Maybe, and I Can’t in English

by | Everyday English and Conversation | 17 comments

Last night I was at the grocery store. I needed a few things to make dinner. Just before I left, I saw a friend I haven’t seen for a long time. I was so happy to see her!

Like typical Americans, we hugged, we chatted, we asked some small talk questions. And then she said, “We should get together! What are you doing this weekend? Why don’t you and your husband come over for dinner Saturday night?”

There was just one problem. I honestly couldn’t remember if we were free or if there was already something on our calendar.

The truth is, I needed to say, “Maybe.”

But maybe sounds awkward, even rude. In this situation, if I said maybe, it’s similar to saying, “I don’t really want to but I’ll think about it.”

I really did want to see her. I really did want to make plans to have dinner together Saturday night. But to be polite, I used a different way to say maybe.

 

Just like in your language, we have many ways to say yes, no, maybe and I can’t in English. And today you’re going to learn them.

In the video lesson, I share common examples for casual and professional life in English. Then I’ve added more examples below.

Watch the video, review the lesson, and then check out my challenge question for you.

Sound more polite with these new ways of saying yes, no, maybe, and I can’t.

Lesson by Annemarie

Polite Ways to Say Yes in English

Wait! There is more than one way to say yes?

Yes! Of course there is! In fact, we have several ways to say yes in English for casual and professional situations. Here are some of the most common:

Casual:

  • Yeah, sure. Here you go.
  • No problem! I’m always happy to help.
  • Yep! I will be right there. (Yep is another informal way to say yes like yeah.)
  • Yeah, I’d be happy to!
  • Cool. (Yes, cool can really be used to say yes or to show agreement.)
  • You got it.
  • Okay.

Professional:

  • Yes, of course. I will get it to you this afternoon.
  • I’d be glad/happy to make the reservations for you.
  • Absolutely. I will finish it this afternoon.
  • Certainly – I will call him now.

“Just like in your language, we have many ways to say yes, no, maybe and I can’t in English. And today you’re going to learn them.”

 

Polite Ways to Say No in English

Unfortunately, there are times when we have to say no. No, we can’t go to the party. Or no I can’t change the date of the meeting. Or no I don’t want to see all 456 photos from your vacation.

But it isn’t very kind to just say, “no.” Here are some other ways to do so:

Casual:

  • No, but thank you.
  • No thanks. It was delicious but I’ve already eaten too much.
  • Not now but another time. Maybe we can go on Saturday?
  • I’d like to but I have to work late this evening.
  • I wish I could but, unfortunately, I already have plans that night.
  • Nope. I don’t have time. Maybe tomorrow.
  • No way. (This is like saying, “No. There’s no chance I would ever do that!”)

 

Professional:

  • I’m sorry but we won’t be able to make that compromise.
  • I would love to/like to but our company has a holiday party that night.
  • I’m afraid that I’m not available on Tuesday.
  • No, I’m sorry to say that we aren’t able to change the time of the meeting.
  • I wish I could but I’m unable to make that kind of compromise.
  • We appreciate the offer, however, this is not a good time for us.
  • I’m afraid I can’t meet you today. How about tomorrow?

Polite Ways to Say Maybe in English

In other words, you can’t or don’t want to commit to something. Often, when we say maybe, people think we don’t want to do something. So instead of saying maybe, use:

  • Perhaps I can make it. Let me check my calendar.
  • Perhaps it will work. Let me think it over.
  • I’m not sure whether I can but I’ll check my calendar and let you know.

“Often, when we say maybe, people think we don’t want to do something.”

 

Polite Ways to Say I Can’t in English

In more professional situations, we sometimes have to tell someone that we can’t do something. For example:

  • I can’t complete this project by 4:00 p.m.
  • I can’t meet you tomorrow.

Saying “I can’t” has a very negative feel to it. And it can even sound like a failure. Instead, you can use the words “not able to” or “unable to” to soften the language. It’s a much more gentle way to say you can’t and it removes some of the negativity.

  • I’m not able to complete this project by 4:00 p.m. (but I should have it finished tomorrow morning).
  • I’m unable to meet you tomorrow. I’m sorry.
  • I’m really sorry but I’m not able to come to your dinner party on Saturday evening.

Now that you’ve completed the lesson, I’d love to hear from you!

What is one new word or expression you learned in today’s lesson? And how can you use it in your English life? Is it an expression you can use at work or with your English-speaking friends?

Tell me about it in the comments below.

~ Annemarie

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