Having to flat-out say “no” is one of life’s more common unpleasant experiences. No must be said to doe-eyed children, flinty-eyed coworkers, and sometimes even soft-eyed labradoodles. There is simply too little time in the day to say yes to everything–or even half of the things if we’re to be honest about it. But overusing the “no” is a dangerous game that can end with a bad reputation so it’s best to mix it up a bit and get really creative about rejecting other peoples’ invitations, ideas, and overtures. Fortunately, there are thousands of ways to say no without actually saying no.
These are the 41 best.
Best Used When: You don’t actually want to admit there is really no way that you are ever going to go do that totally inconvenient and un-fun thing (Apple picking? Really?) with an emotionally fragile friend/sexual partner with whom you may have a shaky relation with.
Subtext: “Hell-to-the-nope but go ahead and keep trying until you come up with an activity I can actually get motivated to join you on.”
“Gotta ask the ol’ ball and chain”
Best Used When: A pseudo-friend wants to grab a beer or a douche-friend wants to grab a craft cocktail.
Subtext: “I don’t want to come. I am also going to get a divorce and start driving a Miata in my mid- to late fifties.”
“I’ll check my schedule”
Best Used When: One is clearly not doing anything.
Subtext: I’d love to help, but I don’t want to do stuff.
Example: “You coming to Evelyn’s third birthday party?” “I’ll check my schedule.”
“Ask your mother”
Best Used When: A request for something is being made which is, while not unreasonable, nevertheless outside the range of what one feels appropriate to grant as a father.
Subtext: It’s a gray area and yes, you’ll probably end up getting your way but not through me.
Example: “Can I watch another episode of PJ Masks?” “Ask your mother.”
“Can we discuss this in one hour?”
Best Used When: The request is rash, non-sensical, a fleeting obsession.
Subtext: You didn’t actually mean to ask that.
“I don’t know”
Best Used When: One knows.
Subtext: I know.
Example: “Do you think this play will be fun to watch?” “I don’t know.”
“Think I’m going to have to punt on that”
Best Used When: Talking to a coworker about a project you completely forgot about or were never aware of in the first place.
Subtext: “I can’t accomplish that because I’m going to be spending most of the day hiding in the handicapped stall.”
Best Used When: One must needs communicate that there is absolutely no possibility of consent being given and that, in fact, the question itself is so absurd on its face that it should never have been asked.
Subtext: You’re an idiot but I’ll give you a pass this time and try to forget you asked.
Example: “Would you ever consider an open marriage?” “Nope.”
“Cool, I’ll text you”
Best Used When: You have vague plans with someone you really don’t want to hang out with.
Subtext: “I will not text you.”
“I’ll think about it”
Best Used When: You want to pretend you’re weighing your options, when in reality you’ve already made up your mind.
Subtext: I’m going to sit here and act like I’m thinking, waiting for you to forget you asked me a question.
“Let me just ask my girlfriend (or significant other)”
Best Used When: You want to bail on someone but don’t want to take the responsibility.
Subtext: I prefer to shift blame to the people I love the most.
Example: “Hey man! Let’s make sure to go and grab a drink this weekend!” “Yeah man! I’d love to. Let me just ask my girlfriend and I’ll let you know”
Best Used When: You’re at a bar/concert and the only thing you’ve heard the person talking to you say is, “Did you hear any of that?
Subtext: I’m just going to keep nodding my head until you leave.
“I don’t think I should commit to anything at this hour”
Best Used When: You’re asked to make late-night decisions.
Subtext: “I’m sober enough to know I’m not sober enough.”
Best Used When: You do not want to expose yourself, as in during a fight and the question comes in, “Do you just want to get fucking divorced?” Which clearly the answer to is NO but you’re not quite ready to say it cos you mad.
Subtext: I’m sorry. Please let me get out of this in someway that preserves my dignity and my injured sense of self.
Best Used When: Something is being asked of you that is unreasonable.
Subtext: “I’m not going do that and I’m we’re absolutely not discussing why.”
Best Used When: To decline a millennial request.
Subtext: “You’re being annoying and should stop. Also, I’m funny”
Best Used When: You’re in Germany
Subtext: “I took German in high school”
*Laugh Loudly And Heartily Enough That They Know You Are Not Going To Do It*
Best Used When: Someone asks you to exercise at an unreasonable hour for an unreasonable length, someone asks you to go see their terrible, $20 play at their Brooklyn theatre, etc.
Subtext: My laughter is to make you feel stupid for even asking.
“Sorry, I have to do a family dinner tonight”
Best Used When: You’re back in your home-town for a few days.
Subtext: The last thing I want to do is go to a bar where I’ll see all the people I went to high school with when I could just hang out on my couch with my dogs and watch TV.
“Negative, Ghostrider, the pattern is full”
Best Used When: You’re an air traffic controller in the Navy and/or the person you’re rejecting is a huge Top Gun fan.
Subtext: It’s not happening, my friend, no matter how much we both agree that playing beach volleyball in blue jeans is ridiculous.
Best Used When: You are saying no in a light-hearted, but totally definitive way to a good friend (who won’t punch you in the face) who is asking you to do something that you have no time for or is above and beyond your level of friendship (like helping them build a deck).
Subtext: “I’m a blunt dude and you’re a blunt dude and I like you but there is no way I’m putting that much time and energy into something that doesn’t really do anything for me and I’m frankly a bit incredulous that you even asked me. They’re called boundaries, Carl.”
*Game Show Buzzer Noise*
Best Used When: Someone answers an obvious question with a wrong answer. Or that you’re tired of.
Subtext: “You should’ve known the answer but you didn’t. Also: I’m tired of you asking me things.”
“I don’t see it happening”
Best Used When: You don’t necessarily want to reject the idea as much as the timing of the request. Or, the person you’re rejecting is a huge Seinfeld fan and you’re going for sarcastic emphasis.
Subtext: It’s a nice idea, probably well-intentioned, but entirely undoable at this moment.
“I love you more than anything. With all of my heart. Goodnight.”
Best Used When: A way to shut down night time neediness. “Tickle me again!” or “one more story!”
Subtext: “I feel that same emotional need, kiddo. but we both need our space.”
*Not Emailing Someone Back*
Best Used When: You don’t have an answer or really don’t want to do a task.
Subtext: “I am hoping this problem will go away if I ignore it for long enough.”
“I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it”
Best Used When: You don’t even want to get started with this shit.
Subtext: “You do not deserve my time.”
Best Used When: You go through the gift shop and see her pick up every little trinket in site and show it to you.
Subtext: “No, you can’t have that. We just saw [insert amazing museum experience here]! You don’t need a piece of plastic to remind you of that!”
Best Used When: You are really angry or really drunk.
Subtext: “I’m not even trying to pretend I don’t hate you right now.”
“That should be fine!”
Best Used When: A situation is, in fact, not fine.
Subtext: My life is crumbling and nothing is fine.
Example: “Dude, are you sure that I can sleep over tomorrow?” “Tomorrow? Yeah, that should be fine.”
Best Used When: One is tired and doubts that a person requesting goods or services will either remember to revisit an issue or have the courage to do so.
Subtext: Not only do I not care about the thing that you care about, I do not care about anything
Example: “Are you gonna raise him Catholic?” “Sure.”
“Yeah, that was so much fun!”
Best Used When: Someone asks if you remember something and you don’t want to come off as senile.
Subtext: I probably wasn’t a part of whatever memory you’re referring to, but I also want you to stop describing it.
Best Used When: One is dealing with someone with deep-seeded insecurities about their intellect or social presentation.
Subtext: If we were wolves, I would bite your haunches until you left the pack to try hanging out with Malamutes.
Example: “You’re not going to park there, right?” “Ha!”
“I’m not sure that makes sense”
Best Used When: Dealing with a volatile personality doesn’t respond well to “no”.
Subtext: Your request is batshit.
Example: When you’re dealing with a friend of a friend who kind of sucks and you would like to squash their plan ideas as soon as possible.
Best Used When: You feel bad saying “no” so you hope that if you just don’t say “yes” they’ll take the hint.
Subtext: It’s the ghosting of answering a question.
Example: “Would you like to go out sometime?” “UMM…………………………………………….”
Best Used When: The answer is definitely no and you would like to imply that you don’t even need time to think about it.
Subtext: You’re an idiot for asking.
Example: “Do you want to go for a 6 am run with me?” “UM, NO.”
“It was sooooo good”
Best Used When: You have a contentious opinion about a popular movie/show/book and you’re tired of explaining why you didn’t like it.
Subtext: I don’t want to get yelled at because I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy, so this is my noncommittal answer
Best Used When: Two of your friends are having a very personal argument and one of them asks if you’re on their side.
Subtext: Please leave me out of this.
“PSHHH” (with laugher)
Best Used When: You would like to be jokingly dismissive.
Subtext: That’s too ridiculous to answer (or I am pretending it’s ridiculous so I don’t have to answer).
Example: “Would you like to go out sometime?” “Pshhhh, haha.”
“I’M SORRY, IT’S JUST MY BRAIN PARROT. IT IS VERY LAVENDER.”
Best Used When: You want to avoid answering the question and discourage more questions.
Subtext: I am pretending to be a weirdo so you will go away.
Example: “Excuse me, is someone sitting here?” “I’m sorry, it’s my brain parrot. It is very lavender.”
Best Used When: Requests come over text. Advanced level is in Slack and other messaging services wherein the respondent is alerted to the act of typing.
Subtext: I was going to say no. I thought better of it. I’m not going to say anything.
“NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.”
Best Used When: Speaking to a small child or a dog.
Example: *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No” *Puts toy in mouth* “No”