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How to turn down an invitation

Learn how to say 'no' to a formal invitation.

Do the preparation task first. Then watch the video and do the task. You can read the transcript at any time.



Language level

Intermediate: B1


Usually I have a problem with refusing the invitation. I'm scared that they will find I lie and will be offended. I like the phrase " prior engagement"

I like the phrase too...I "ll remember it))

I think that I would be offended if a friend replied with. "I'm unable to attend because I have a prior engagement."
This sounds very formal - maybe okay for a distant relative's wedding?

Isn't this more typical, and friendly:
"Oh, the drinks party sounds really great, but I'm afraid I'm not free then. (I have to _______ / I've already promised to _______________). Maybe we could meet the weekend after, if you're free?"

Hello JimRon,

You are right that this is a formal way to reply. On the other hand, the invitation is also very formal ('Josh and Henrietta would like to have the pleasure of your company at a drinks party, next Saturday evening'). I think it really depends, as you suggest, on the relationship between the people.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

thanks for your response. I can see your point - it was a very formal invitation for a party. I've never got one like that!

I suppose my question is why show such a formal scene, one that is surely very rare among younger people, as the only example you provide of how to turn down an invitation. To me, a central need for language teachers, or language learning resources, is to show what is typical, what commonly occurs, how people typically use language. Otherwise there's a real risk that learners of the language will think that this very rare type of behaviour is acceptable in everyday situations, when it is not.

Thanks again.

I cannot find the video.

Hello phu,

I have just checked and can see the video. I would suggest you download and install the latest version of the Adobe Flash Player on your device. That should fix the problem, but if not, please let us know.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

some invitations can be a night mare.

The Tasks Tab does not load for me. :(

Hello Marcio11,

I'm sorry to hear you are having problems with this. Could you describe a little more fully what you see and how you are accessing the site? Can you see the tab? What happens when you click on it? What device are you using (a tablet, a phone, a laptop etc) and what system do you have (Windows, Mac OS, Linux etc)?

This information will help us to work out what is causing the problem and to see if we can help you to solve it.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team