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If someone asks me to do something with them and I don't want to do that activity, how can I tell them "I don't want to hang out with you tonight" and not hurt their feelings?

Normally I say something like, "Not really". I once had a friend say "We are not interested" when we asked them to go to a baseball game. To me that seemed really abrupt and somewhat rude.

What is the best way to say "I don't want to go"?

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I don't think this is a question about English language at all. It's just a question about good manners and an appropriate level of politeness - which in any case will depend entirely on the people involved and the exact circumstances on each occasion. –  FumbleFingers Jul 1 '11 at 1:07
    
@fumblefingers why is there a tag for etiquette? –  guanome Jul 1 '11 at 4:28
    
EL&U is just a community who collectively and individually decide what goes on here. I'm just one voice, so please don't assume what I say has any special authority. It's unlikely many (if indeed any) will agree with my comment, but I've put it out there because that's what I think. You question is a perfectly good one for other sites - I just can't really endorse it here, is all. –  FumbleFingers Jul 1 '11 at 19:02
    
@FumbleFingers: This sort of ettiquette is a linguistic issue, because it's (a) about the form of words to use (b) it's going to be the case that what's polite is more uniform across english speaking countries, than between any of them and societies that don't primarily use english. –  Marcin Jul 3 '11 at 8:25
    
@marcin: Okay I will accept that. But I note the joint top answer right now is "I'm sorry, but I've already made plans". I'm not sure I like the implication that evasive [white] lies are a standard part of social interaction among English speakers. –  FumbleFingers Jul 3 '11 at 11:44
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5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I'd rather not.
I'm not feeling up for that tonight.
Perhaps another time (if it's the timing and not the activity that is the problem).

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Perhaps another time. Ha! Surely that time will never come. –  Jimi Oke Sep 7 '11 at 1:27
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@Jimi Oke, that's the power of "perhaps". :-) –  Monica Cellio Sep 7 '11 at 15:39
    
Haha, I know! Nice word. –  Jimi Oke Sep 7 '11 at 21:56
    
nice answer :) Upvoted –  InfantPro'Aravind' Nov 23 '12 at 11:12
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How about:

"I'm sorry, but I've already made plans (for tonight)."

That always works, because having the intention to veg out in front of the TV and then go to bed is still a plan...

However, if you want to send the message the first time that you're refusing the offer because you don't like the activity to which you are being invited, there is little you can do to take the edge off the refusal, other than to apologise and give the honest reason as to why you don't want to go.

A couple of milder ways of saying that an activity doesn't interest you include:

"Sorry, ________ isn't really my thing."

"I'm not all that keen on ________. (Though I would love to hang out with you next time you're doing something different)."

The thing about simply saying: "I'm not interested." is that it leaves it ambiguous as to what it is that you're not interested in. (I.e., are you disinterested in what your friends are going out to do? Or are you just not interested in hanging out with them? The latter is what would be considered rude.)

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It's rather misleading, though; for the first one or two times, it implies that another attempt might be successful. –  jprete Jul 1 '11 at 0:03
    
@jprete I agree, sometimes it's something I will never want to do and I wouldn't want to give them the impression that one day I will. –  guanome Jul 1 '11 at 4:30
    
@guanome, a colloquial response in that case could be, "You know, I'm not really into [activity]. Thanks though!" or "...maybe we can do something else sometime." –  mkennedy Jul 3 '11 at 0:17
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take a rain check
said when politely refusing an offer, with the implication that one may accept it at a later date : I can’t make it tonight, but I’d like to take a rain check.

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Note that this is an Americanism. Does it usually come with an obligation to explain what is keeping you from accepting the invitation? –  Marcin Jul 3 '11 at 8:26
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@Marcin: An explanation is often given along with it, but it's not an obligation. It's more likely to stand alone when replacing No, I don't want to. –  Callithumpian Jul 3 '11 at 13:22
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"Thanks for the invite & keeping me in mind. Would it be okay if I'll call/SMS/email you back when I'd be interested in joining in?"

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"Sorry, I can't make it tonight maybe another time?"

As long as you convey that the situation is unfortunate ("Sadly, I can't make it tonight,"), but that at another time you will gladly take up their offer ("but I'd definitely be up for something next week."), you should be in the clear and be seen as polite and friendly (maybe a bit busy if you do this all the time!).

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