Arabic Refusals

Classification of Arabic Refusal Strategies

I. Direct (I refuse, No, I can't)

II. Indirect

  1. Reason (I have other plans/I'm going to be studying until late tonight)
  2. Consideration of interlocutor's feelings (While I appreciate the offer,.../Thank you)
  3. Suggestion of willingness (I'll do it next time/Make it another day)
  4. Let interlocutor off the hook (Don't worry about it)
  5. Statement of regret (I'm so sorry)
  6. Hedging (Oh, I'm not sure)
  7. Statement of principle (I don't believe in fad dieting)
  8. Criticize the request/requester (Who do you think you are?)
  9. Repetition of part of the request (A dinner?)

Frequencies of Direct/Indirect Strategies

Native speakers of Egyptian Arabic tend to utilize substantially more indirect rather than direct refusal strategies. Compared to native speakers of American English, Egyptian Arabic speakers tend to employ fewer refusal strategies.

A typical example of Egyptian Arabic refusing an invitation to dinner by a friend:

  • la 'no' (direct refusal),
  • macleshsh 'sorry/what can you do?/never mind' (regret)
  • khalliiha yoom taani 'Make it another day' (suggestion of willingness)
  • s-sabt l-gayy, ana mashguula khaaliS 'I am very busy next Saturday' (reason)

Frequencies of Indirect Strategies

Egyptian refusals often consist primarily of reasons for the refusal, especially when refusing someone of lower status. Even in refusing a boss's request to work late, offering reasons may be sufficient in order to fully justify the refusals. (However, native speakers of Egyptian Arabic might find such situations very difficult to negotiate and choose not to refuse at all. Therefore, such refusals might rarely occur.)

  • Ana Haasis inn ana tacbaan w-mughad 'I feel that I am tired and exhausted' (reason)
  • w-mish Ha'dar a'uum bi-shughli kwayyis 'and will not be able to perform my job well' (reason)
  • ana mish Ha'dar asiib miraati w-ibni li-waHduhum w-asaafir fi makaan bi cid 'I cannot leave my wife and son alone and travel to a distant place' (reason)

Suggestions of willingness are also often used by Egyptian Arabic speakers. An Egyptian employee may be careful to indicate his/her willingness to stay late at the boss's request before giving reasons why s/he could not.

  • Kunt iltili mbaariH inn iHna Ha-nucud innaharda 'I wish you had told me yesterday that we would be staying (late) today' (suggestion of willingness)
  • cashaan a cmil Hisaabi 'so that I could plan for it' (suggestion of willingness)
  • laakin ana delwa'ti mish caamil Hisaabi 'but I am not prepared' (reason)
  • wi-waraaya irtibaaTaat 'and I have other commitments' (reason)
  • wi-muTTar arawwaH 'so I must leave' (direct refusal)

Regret is often stated in Egyptian Arabic with the formulaic phrase macleshsh, which has multiple meanings including 'sorry/what can you do?/never mind.' In refusing a piece of cake from a friend, an Egyptian Arabic speaker may say:

  • la 'no' (direct refusal)
  • bi-SaraaHa ana candi HumuuDa 'Frankly, I suffer from some acidity' (reason)
  • mish Ha'dar aakul keek, 'and will not be able to eat cake' (direct refusal)
  • macleshsh 'sorry/what can you do?/never mind' (regret)

Above passages taken from (Nelson et al., 2002)



Nelson, G. L., Carson, J., Al Batal, M., & Bakary W. E. (2002). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Strategy use in Egyptian Arabic and American English refusals. Applied Linguistics, 23 (2), 163-189.

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