British Refusals

Over half of British refusals include expressions of regret and an excuse/reason such as these combinations below:

  1. excuse/reason + regret
  2. regret + excuse/reason
  3. regret + excuse/reason + promise or suggestions of future agreement
  4. regret + excuse/reason + statement of negative willingness

Giving a reason is probably central to refusals in British English as in American English. A concrete and specific reason tends to be necessary. For instance, in response to a request for a ride home, specific reasons might be that the speaker was not going home directly and/or why s/he was not doing so. Some examples are:

  • I'm not going home straight away. I've got to go meet someone first.
  • I'm not going straight home tonight. I was going to do some late night shopping.
  • I've got to pick some friends up from out of town straight after work.
  • I'm meeting my sister at the apartment.

There is less of a tendency to give reasons for refusing someone familiar and possibly of equal status. The explanation is that it is probably more acceptable to make refusals in speaking to a familiar person and giving a reason is not as necessary as when speaking to a less familiar person.

Direct refusals are rare and performative refusals (I refuse...) are hardly ever used. "No" and statements of negative willingness (I can't etc.) occur only rarely.

In response to a refusal to a small request, an expression of regret is likely to be offered, especially to status equals rather than to people of higher or lower status. For a larger request, apologies are sometimes offered.

[ Research notes on the section above... ]

Above passages taken from (Kitao, 1996)



Kitao, S. K. (1996). Communicative competence, preference organization, and refusals in British English. Sougou Bunka Kenkyujo Kiyou, 13, 47-58.

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