Spanish Refusals

Classification of Spanish Refusal Strategies

(Felix-Brasdefer, 2002, p. 105)

I. Direct

  1. Performative verbs
  2. me rehuso 'I refuse'

  3. Flat "No"
  4. Negation of a proposition
  5. me es muy dificil a la fiesta 'It's very difficult for me to attend the party'

  6. Mitigated refusal
  7. Creo que no sera possible 'I don't think it's possible.'
    Probablemente no quiero tomar la clase 'I probably don't want to take the class.'

II. Indirect

  1. Excuse, reason, explanation
  2. Tengo planes 'I have plans.'
    Tengo un compromiso 'I have a commitment.'

  3. Indefinite reply
  4. Luego te digo 'I'll let you know.'
    Voy a pensarlo "I'll think about it.'

  5. Apology/regret
  6. Discìlpeme 'I apologize.'
    Lo siente (mucho)/De verdad lo siento 'I'm so/very/really sorry.'

  7. Alternative
  8. Why don't we go out for dinner next week?

  9. Request for repetition
  10. Monday at 2:00 p.m.?

  11. Request for additional information
  12. What time is the party?

  13. Postponement
  14. Qué posibilidades habrîa de que pueda posponer la clase, digamos, para el semester entrante? 'What possibilities would there be to put the class off, say, for next semester?'

  15. Request for consideration/understanding
  16. No puedo desatender esa cuestión. Ud. comprende, ¿Àno? 'I can't avoid that issue. You understand, right?

  17. Set condition for past acceptance
  18. If you had asked me earlier, I would have accepted.'

  19. Wish
  20. I wish I could stay to work for two more hours, but I already have plans.

  21. Irony
  22. A: Ah man, ah, can't you cancel it, or reschedule it or somethin' like that?
    B: (laughs) Yeah yeah, I'll tell 'em just cancel it, cancel the flight, mom, it's uh, it's Ben's 21st birthday party.

  23. Proverb
  24. Las piedras rodando se encuentran. 'Rolling stones will meet again.'

III. Adjuncts to Refusals

  1. Positive Opinion
  2. That's a good idea, but I don't think I'll be able to make it.
    Congratulations on your promotion, but...

  3. Willingness to Comply
  4. I'd love to, but...

  5. Gratitude/appreciation
  6. Le agradezco que se haya tomado la atenci„n en haberme invitado. 'I appreciate your making the effort to invite me.'

  7. Agreement tokens
  8. Yes, okay, but...

  9. Empathy
  10. I understand you are in a pinch, but...

  11. Support
  12. ...y bueno, no sé hasta qué punto se pudiera que, bueno, tal vez no asistiría, ¿èno?, pero bueno, como le digo, yo siempre he estado a sus órdenes y a su servicio y todo. Creo que Ud. es una gran persona en cuanto al trabajo que Ud. desempeña. 'well, I don't know up to what point it would be possible to, well, maybe I wouldn't go, right?, but anyway, as I say, I have always supported you and been at your service and all. I think that you are a great person with regard to the work that you do.'

  13. Respect
  14. Yo creo que a partir de este momento, pues, debe de existir un respeto ¿Àno? de mi parte como empleado, como trabajador de esta de esta empresa... pero lamento decirle, y perdón por este comentario, pero no puedo ir. 'I think that from this moment forward, well, that there should be a certain respect, don't you think, on my part as an employee, as a worker at this business, but I am sorry to say this, and please forgive me for what I'm about to say, but I don't mean any offence to you, but that class just doesn't fit into my schedule.

Example of a Spanish Refusal

A Mexican employee refusing an invitation from his boss:
Le pido una disculpa porque no puedo asistir a esta fiesta que Ud. está organizando porque tengo un compromiso con una persona muy especial que me impide asistir a esta fiesta y por eso le pido una disculpa, pero le agradezco que se haiga tomado la atención en haberme invitado. Sólo le reitero una disculpa, ¿èno?

'I apologize because I can't go to the party that you're organizing because I have a commitment with someone very special which prevents me from going to the party and for that I apologize, but I am grateful that you made the effort to have invited me. I just reiterate my apology.'

Above passages from Felix-Brasdefer (2002), p. 4.

[ More examples of Mexican Spanish refusals... ]

Solidarity and Deference Politeness Strategies

Spanish speakers employ politeness strategies that can be categorized into solidarity strategies and deference politeness strategies. Solidarity politeness assumes low power difference and smaller distance between the speakers and is used to establish camaraderie and solidarity between interlocutors. Deference politeness strategies, on the other hand, are used to maintain distance, formality, and respect between the interlocutors.

A Spanish invitation-refusal sequence can be divided into two stages:

  1. Invitation-response
  2. Insistence-response

[ Research notes on the two stages... ]


The Invitation-Response section includes the following strategies to refuse the invitation.

Deference Politeness Strategies

  • Mitigated Refusal
  • Indefinite Reply
  • Expression of Sorrow/regret
  • Non-verbal refusal
  • Reasons/Explanations
  • Gratitude

Solidarity Politeness Strategies

  • Inquiry to Third Party
  • Direct Refusal
  • Token Agreement/Acceptance
  • Criticism
  • Expression of Willingness to Comply
  • Positive Opinion/Well Wishing
  • Promise of Future Acceptance/Making Future Plans
  • Promise to Comply/Try

[ Research notes on the Invitation-Response stage... ]

A Typical Invitation-Response Interaction:



Tiempo que no te veía, oye chica mira he estado pensando en ti justo en estos días sabes que el sábado es mi cumpleaños.
'It's been some time since I've seen you. Listen woman, look, I've been thinking about you precisely because you know that Saturday is my birthday.'



No me digas! 'You don't say!'



Entonces digo voy a hacer una reunión pequeña - de un grupito pequeño lo más simple con mis hermanas, una cosa sencilla. Para ver si te das un brinquito a las seis y media hasta las ocho un ratito aunque sea.
'So, look, I'm going to have a small get together - just a little group as simple as possible with my siblings, a simple thing, and let's see if you could stop by just for a short while between 6:30 and 8 pm.'



Ay voy a hacer todo lo posible corazón 'Oh, I'll do whatever I can, my love' (Indefinite Reply)
pero justo ese dia es cumpleaños de mi hermana 'but precisely that day is my sister's birthday' (Reason/Explanation)



Ay 'Oh'



Justo ustedes son el mismo día (Reason/Explanation) y tú
'You two have birthdays on the exact same day'



Eso 'So it is.'



Sabes que no puedo dejar de ir
'You know I couldn't not attend (my sister's birthday party)' (Reason/Explanation)

Distribution of Male/Female Refusal Strategies at the Invitation-Response Stage

At the first stage of the refusal, Invitation-Response, Peruvian Spanish speakers often start their refusal with deference politeness strategies that satisfy the inviter/offerer's desire to be respected more often than solidarity politeness strategies that would satisfy the inviter/offerer's desire to be liked and approved of. This tendency is virtually the same for both male and female.

Peruvian speakers follow this initial segment of refusal with more strategies. At this second stage, deference strategies are used slightly more often than solidarity strategies, but the two types of strategies are generally used together to satisfy the inviter's desire to be both respected and approved of/liked. Female speakers seem to use deference politeness more often than solidarity politeness while males generally make equal use of both.

[ Research notes on the section above... ]


After the initial Invitation-Refusal stage, Peruvian Spanish speakers often go into a second stage, the Insistence-Response. When the inviter requests the refuser to make an effort to comply with the invitation, the refuser typically responds with one of the following strategies:

Deference Politeness Strategies

  • Mitigated Refusal
  • Gratitude
  • Reasons/Explanations
  • Expression of Pessimism
  • Indefinite Reply
  • Apology

Solidarity Politeness

  • Acceptance/Token Agreement
  • Promise to Comply/Try
  • Direct Refusal
  • Making Future Plans
  • Promise to Comply/Try

[ Research notes on the Insistence-Response stage... ]

Example of insistence:



(Invitation to attend her birthday party on Saturday.)



Mira, Anita. Me has chapado. 'Look, Anita. I feel honored.'



Ah, no vas a decir que no puedes ir. 'Oh, you're not going to tell me you can't come.' [reason/explanation]



No, desgraciadamente. Tengo un compromise antelado. 'No, unfortunately. I have a previous engagement.'



Ay, cara. 'Oh, dear.'



Y bien sabes que me impide sinceramente porque hubiera sido para mi... 'And you know that really it's my loss because it would have been for me...' [expression of willingness to comply]



Si pues, para estar todos reunidos un ratito algo. 'Precisely ® to have us all together for a bit.'



Lamentablemente... 'Sadly...' [expression of sorrow]



Ay, qué pena 'Oh, what a shame'



Y son de esas cosas que tienes que ir 'And it's for those occasions that you have to go.'



Mira, tanto me hubiera gustado po - tú te pierdes pues. Tanto tiempo no has ido por la casa pues para ver si. 'Look, it would have pleased me so much - you've disappeared on me. You haven't been by the house for such a long time.'



Ya habrá oportunidad 'But there'll be future opportunities.' [making future plans]



Ya mira...cualquier una cosa se presentara y pudieras solucionar, te das una escapadita 'Look...if the opportunity presents itself, see if you could still slip away...' [insistente]

Distribution of Male/Female Refusal Strategies at the Insistence-Response Stage

When the inviter insists on the invitation, approximately two-thirds of the Peruvian Spanish speakers follow their initial refusal with a second stage. The vast majority of speakers, both male and female, generally use solidarity politeness strategies. This may be due to the insistence itself, which expresses solidarity between the interlocutors. It also assumes familiarity in the relationship, which allows imposition and the expectation that the refuser might simply respond in kind.

The last segment of the refusal more often includes deference politeness strategies than solidarity strategies. This tendency is similar between male and female speakers. However, most female speakers tend to accept the invitation (albeit with an indefinite reply or with token agreement), while some male speakers might prefer to be more direct in their refusal.

In Peruvian Spanish, it may be culturally expected that the inviter insists on the invitation and that the recipient of the invitation accepts. Not insisting may even indicate rudeness or lack of sincerity. Similarly, not accepting the invitation might be considered an offense.

[ Research notes on the section above... ]

Above passages taken from (Garcia, 1992)



Félix-Brasdefer, C. (2002). Refusals in Spanish and English: A cross-cultural study of politeness strategies among speakers of Mexican Spanish, American English, and American learners of Spanish as a foreign language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minnesota.

García, C. (1992). Refusing an invitation: A case study of Peruvian style. Hispanic Linguistics, 5(1-2), 207-243.


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