I have a question regarding the proper usage of the word "refuse"

Let's say someone made a request to me, and my desire is to grant the request to the person. However let's assume that I am unable to grant the request despite my desire because the request entails something that is impossible for me to do. So if I say to this person, "sorry, I can't grant your request although I wish that I can do it for you", am I "refusing" to grant the request? or is there a better way to put it?

  • You could possibly say Sorry, I'm afraid I have to refuse because.... But in the circumstances you describe it would undoubtedly be better to avoid the word refuse altogether.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 16:35
  • You need to show why standard and readily available references don't answer your question. Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 16:37
  • The alien arrived by rocket. He refused to leave.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


To refuse means :

  • To indicate unwillingness (to do something): refused to leave.(AHD)

You are not refusing to do what you are being asked, you are just unable/ not in a position to do it ( for reasons that , presumably, do not depend on you)


It sounds more graceful if you decline the request, and deny and even recuse are possible. But if you say "I am unable to do that (at present)", it carries more of a connotation of regretful inability than outright refusal. Of course, for just this reason it is often used by those who are in fact refusing; if you want to make your position absolutely clear you would have to say "Whatever I would prefer, I cannot do that because..." and explain the reason, which may be of no ionterest to your listener.

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