In China, declining an invitation outright can be seen as rude, so it is important to gage your audience. In this article, we will focus on various phrases that will help you decline an invitation politely.
There are so many ways to decline an invitation, and more often than not, your declination will include some kind of excuse. If you are speaking to your boss or mother-in-law, choose a "softer method" of declining. If you need to get rid of a pushy salesman, there are more firm methods.
We listed the ways to decline an invitation from most polite (softest) to the most firm below.
wǒ men xià cì zài qù ba
Let's go next time.
Not only will this phrase get the job done for declining, but it will also allow you to display your interest towards the invite. Saying "next time" sometimes means the activity will happen, or that it will never happen. Hence, this phrase comes in handy for situations you don't want to be in, or for situations of when you want to accept the invitation another day.
zhēn de bú yòng (le)
Really, there's no need.
The appropriate usage for this phrase is when you are declining some sort of tangible offer. For example, if someone offers to pay for your dinner, you can use this phrase to try and get the person out of the act. It can also demonstrate your modesty and manners, in that you are not just going to allow the person to pay for you. Sometimes you can say "不用 (bù yòng)" several times and attach the 了(le) at the end of the phrase. Adding the "真的 (zhēn de)" is like adding "really" at the end of what you're saying.
wǒ jīn tiān yǒu diǎn shì
I have something to do today.
When using this phrase, you are implying that your day's schedule is much too packed to accept the invitation. This phrase is useful because you suggest that your inability to take on the invitation is due to something outside of your control. Keep in mind that this phrase only gets you out of the activity for one day. It leaves an opening for them to invite you again at another time.
gǎi tiān ba
This is a very vague way of saying "Next time." Literally, it means, "Let's switch to another day." However, this does not mean that you are asking the person to invite you again.
这是表达"next time"的模糊的说法。字面上讲，它的意思是"let's switch to another day"，不过，这并不意味着你是在让对方再次邀请你。
wǒ jīn tiān méi kòng
I don't have time today.
This phrase explains concisely to the person inviting you that you simply do not have the time today for an additional activity. You can take out 今天 (jīn tiān), and then 我没有空 (wǒ méi yǒu kòng) will just explain you cannot take on the invite because you don't have the time to.
You can also combine a few of them to soften the tone. For example, you can say, "我今天没空, 改天吧 (wǒ jīn tiān méi kòng, gǎi tiān ba./I'm too busy today. Next time.)"
你也可以结合几种方式，使你的语气显得更温和。例如，你可以说"我今天没空，改天吧（I'm too busy today. Next time.）"