“No means NO!” A look at the many ways to reject an offer in English

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Imagine this scenario: a stranger offers a child a ride to school, or offers a woman to a cup of tea, or offers a group of people to go to a free show in a theater, etc. You want to say no, but you want to find a creative alternative to the words “No thank you.” Furthermore, you would like to know which of the expressions are more forceful than the polite versions. It’s like in the commercial produced in 2015 on the issue of consent and, like in the picture above, the offer for a cup of tea:

Of course, we could accept the offer and say sure, we can do that. Germans would use the word annehmen and the English equivalents are below:

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For the enquivalent to the German word, ablehnen, the expressions are on the same level as this traffic light:

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The green light represents the polite way of saying no, the yellow light is the more stern way, and the red light is the most forceful way. The most commonly used words to describe “No!” are decline, reject and refuse. Like the traffic light, the difference among the three verbs is as follows:

As a hint, each of the words also have an equivalent, whose meanings are different, but they are in reference to the actual meaning of the word.

Decline: Two meanings come to mind when it comes to this word. The first has to do with deteriorate, the other to go down. While it is OK to politely decline to the offer a friend gives you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the friend doesn’t like you. Yet if you reject your friend’s offer multiple times, then you might want to ask why, for it could be a sign that a friendship is deteriorating.

Reject: There are several words that come to mind when it comes to rejecting something sternly. One can repeal, annul or back out of an offer. Yet you can reject an offer and at the same time end a relationship and leave someone behind. As a hint, when you reject something plainly and to the point, it is a sign that you want to end something and move on. Reject is a tool used to end a partnership but on a professional basis.

Refuse: Two words are used to describe the harshest form of a “No” word: refuse and waste. Refuse is British and means garbage in American English as well as Abfall in German. The stress is on the first syllable. Waste is the same as garbage as a noun, but as a verb it means using time in a worthless manner. If you use the word refuse, your implying that the other person is wasting your time and you want nothing to do with him/her. If you use refuse, then the person is being tossed into the pile of garbage, full of disappointments, but in the clearest (and hopefully) verbal manner.

Review:

Decline <=> deteriorate, go down

Reject <=> repeal, annul, back out, end, leave behind

Refuse <=> refuse (noun), garbage, waste (noun/verb)

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A. Look at the expressions below. Determine whether they represent a red light (severe), yellow light (stern but moderate) or green light (polite). Please keep in mind that both the three words plus their synonyms are featured in the examples.

  1. I refuse to talk to my dad. He’s such a racist!
  2. Patricia declined to comment on the incident.
  3. Sam rejected Torsten’s request for a paid leave of absence
  4. The police officer apprehended the driver after he refused to show him his driver’s license.
  5. The teenager refused to show his tatoo to the leader of the gang and was subsequentially beaten.
  6. Anna declined Ted’s offer for a beer after work.
  7. I refuse to be a victim to this abuse!
  8. The President rejected the proposal to sign the treaty, citing high costs to carry it through.
  9. The clerk rejected the form because there was missing information.
  10. The opposite team declined the offer to penalize the home team for the foul.
  11. The marriage was annulled due to irreconcilable differences. Annul is the same as which of the three words: ______________________
  12. I’ve decided to leave the group because of the contract and I wanted to go solo. Leave is the same as which of the three words: ___________________.
  13. The relationship has deteriorated recently because of cultural differences between the couple. Deteriorate is the same as which of the three words:_______________________
  14. I will not speak with that piece of garbage. Not after what he did. He’s a waste of time. Waste and garbage are in reference to which of the three words: _____________________
  15. I passed up on the offer to work in Auckland for family reasons. Pass up is the same as which of the three words: __________________________.
  16. The bishop shunned the couple for same-sex marriage. Shun is the same as which of the three words: ______________________.
  17. We renounced our citizenship because we didn’t want to pay double taxes. Renounce is the same as which of the three words: ____________________.
  18. Scott sat out during the game because of a nose bleed. Sit out is the same as which of the three words:_____________________.
  19. The plaintiff’s lawyer objected to the defendant’s claims in court. Object is the same as which of the three words: ____________________.
  20. People in the hall protested at the proposal to tear the historic building down. Protest is the same as which of the three words: ________________________.

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B. Complete the following sentences, using either decline, reject or refuse. Pay attention to the details!

  1. Charles _______________ to apologize to his brother for the fight because he had started it.
  2. The cat ________________ to come down from the cupboard. So Sam took a broom and chased him down.
  3. Georgia _________________ Harlow’s offer to dinner at the diner in town. She was not interested in him and he understood.
  4. I _________________ to comment on the story because I’ve only heard it for the first time. Please give me time to digest the news.
  5. The Senate ________________ the proposal calling for the increase in taxes among the wealthy.
  6. The wedding proposal was __________________ because she didn’t love him. She loved someone else.
  7. The protesters _________________ to leave the town square, so the police sprayed water on them.
  8. I _________________ to back down to Mr. Henning because his argument for me clearing my classroom was not justified.
  9. My boss _________________ the offer for a higher position because he loves his job.
  10. She __________________ the draft because it was irrelevant.

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C. Look at the following sentences and convert them using the antonyms.

Example: I refuse your apology! <=> I accept your apology!

  1. I decline the offer to marry you. <=>
  2. I refuse to talk to him. <=>
  3. The proposal was rejected by a unanimous vote. <=>
  4. The fine for speeding was rejected. <=>
  5. The peace treaty has been refused by both parties. <=>
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After watching the video and reading (as well as doing) the examples, you should have an idea on the ways to express yourself if someone offers you something in English and you want to accept or deny the offer. Regardless of severity vs politeness, the main factor is: “No means no!” If a person declines, rejects or refuses something, then there is a reason for that. It is only OK with the consent of the other and NOT based on your assumptions. What was learned in your childhood that “No means yes.” is no longer the norm in this day and age.

When it’s no, it means no. Regardless of how no is interpreted.

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