66

It seems it's rude and impolite to say directly to someone "none of your business". So, what's the more gentle alternative(s) for situations in which we should say "hey, this is none of your business!"?

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  • 13
    This depends on the social situation, which includes both cultural and personal aspects. In the US, a rude, intrusive question from a stranger may be met with NOYB. A generic, less direct answer would be "I'd rather not say." Or you can tailor your answer to the query: Someone asks, "How much money do you make?" A polite sidestep would be "Enough." – deadrat Sep 2 '16 at 6:51
  • You could also preface it to soften the rudeness: I'm afraid, that is NOYB; I think for now that is NOYB, considering that we don't know each other that well, it's NOYB; etc... – Helmar Sep 2 '16 at 11:08
  • 1
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27 Answers 27

68

If you're asked a question you do not want to answer, and you feel like saying "none of your business", maybe these might be a better way to be polite and convey the same idea.

"I'd rather not say..."PhraseMix explains

"I'd rather not..." means "I don't want to..."

People say "I'd rather not..." to talk about something that they don't want to do, although they might have to. For example, if you're shopping for a new car, you can tell the salesperson:

"I'd rather not go over fifteen thousand."

This means that you don't want to spend more than fifteen thousand dollars (or Euros, Pounds, etc.) on the car. However, you know that you might have to spend more than that.

If you're in a bad mood, and someone asks you what's wrong, you can respond this way:

"I'd rather not talk about it."

You can also say "I'd rather not" without continuing the sentence:

A: We can sleep at the Sutherlands' house and go back in the morning.
B: I'd rather not.

Even more polite would be "I'd prefer not to answer..."

  • 4
    These seem like the best polite alternatives, the other alternatives have a potential to sound confrontational. – Ellis Sep 2 '16 at 10:05
  • 5
    This one completely avoids the implicit rebuke in MYOB -- in which it is implied that the questioner has failed to understand what is and is not their business. By putting the focus on what your preferences, the questioner can not appear terribly nosy. – Eric Wilson Sep 2 '16 at 12:55
  • Agreed with @Ellis. – Eilia Sep 2 '16 at 14:54
  • 2
    Why did Mark Hubbard edit NVZ's answer, rather than post a new answer? – Anton Sherwood Sep 5 '16 at 7:59
  • 8
    @AntonSherwood - He'd rather not say. – Jeremy Sep 5 '16 at 13:55
49

It will vary a great deal by context. Depending on context, two possibilities I see are:

It's not as rude as Mind your own business, but it's very firm.

Alternately:

  • That's a [blank] matter.
  • That's a [blank] affair.

As in:

  • That's a personal matter.
  • That's a private matter.
  • That's an internal matter. (E.g., in relation to a business or organization.)

From:

  • matter - "a subject under consideration" (Merriam-Webster)
  • affair - "a matter that concerns or involves someone" (Merriam-Webster) can be used in place of matter, but be careful in context that it can't be confused with another meaning of affair - "a secret sexual relationship between two people"
  • personal - "of, relating to, or affecting a particular person" (Merriam-Webster)
  • private - "belonging to or concerning an individual person, company, or interest" (Merriam-Webster)
  • internal - "of, relating to, or occurring on the inside of an organized structure" (Merriam-Webster)
  • 9
    "That's a private matter" defuses the situation without causing offense. That is much better in a professional environment than other, more direct responses. – Kys Sep 2 '16 at 17:21
  • 3
    When appropriate, you can add niceties such as "It's kind of you to ask, but I prefer to keep this matter private" or some other variant. – TecBrat Sep 2 '16 at 20:57
  • The best part of private matter is it puts the blame on the matter, not on the person. And TecBrat is right, such a phrase is almost always preceded by "I'm sorry, but [that's a private matter]." – corsiKa Sep 6 '16 at 3:01
32

You could use a touch of movie-cliché humour: If I told you, I would have to kill you.

  • 6
    We appreciate the desire to help, but please consider either expanding your answer or deleting it. Questions should be answered as an expert would answer them: comprehensively, with explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Unsupported answers may be removed. (more¹) (more²) – MetaEd Sep 2 '16 at 14:58
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    @MetaEd I wonder if there can be a 'right' answer for the question as currently worded - it's very broad and non-specific - and there are few details in the question to relate any explanation to. We should probably get the question more focused first. – topo morto Sep 3 '16 at 16:02
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    @MetaEd I generally agree with the requirements for a good answer, but in this case there is an explanation: the answer is not confrontational because it's mildly humorous (only a touch of humour) and lighthearted as it alludes to entertainment industry; the origin is explained, but since we are talking about a cliché, citations are quite problematic, or at least redundant. One could expand this answer into three more sentences, but it would ruin the elegance of putting the same content in a single 3-6 word phrase. Cderric shouldn't be corrected for their great command of language, IMO. – Lucky Sep 5 '16 at 16:25
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    @Barmar: This phrase is never used when the answer is a highly guarded secret. – Dave Sep 6 '16 at 0:47
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    @Barmar I've used this phrase in my own conversations for exactly the reason cderrick supposes it ought to be used. The reason it works so well is because it doesn't lay bare the fact that your raconteur has just overstepped socially acceptable bounds of inquiry; instead it deflects the offense with humor, thus defusing the situation while making clear, after several seconds of following silence at most, that you really won't be answering that question. – Adam Wykes Sep 6 '16 at 14:44
19

A less rude verbal response, an alternative to NOYB, might be, "I don't think that concerns you". I very often deflect an impertinent question with a paused response: "And the next question, please".

  • 2
    The second option is perfect. – Richard Kayser Sep 2 '16 at 7:31
  • 3
    "And the next question, please", Interesting! (+1) – Eilia Sep 2 '16 at 7:40
  • 1
    Charming, but I don't think the OP is looking for something so barbed. – Anton Sherwood Sep 2 '16 at 19:38
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    When attempting to make a potentially rude statement sound more neutral, avoiding personal pronouns like "you" and "your" are helpful. The paused response mentioned here is dismissive and rude. It is the opposite of what the OP is looking for. – TecBrat Sep 2 '16 at 20:53
  • 3
    "Thanks for your interest, but I'd rather keep that private." – Nick Weinberg Sep 3 '16 at 4:08
16

When asked about something sensitive, or if you want to express that the question is inappropriate, the polite answer could be

I don't feel comfortable answering this kind of question.

This might need to be repeated several times until the speaker gets it.

  • Only when Americans use it though. When Europeans use it they're totally not also precluding rational thought. I feel that's a touch jingoistic. – Adam Wykes Sep 6 '16 at 14:47
15

It’s complicated is a common and usually effective way to evade questions you’d rather not answer.

  • This is nicely evasive and not impolite. Except it may be untrue (it may be very simple), but maybe that's OK. – Mitch Sep 2 '16 at 13:37
  • 3
    The only problem with this one is that it can prompt further questions - it might be complicated but it doesn't stop them enquiring (not down voting, just mentioning). – Lyall Sep 2 '16 at 15:40
  • 1
    "Don't worry, I have the time" – Davidmh Sep 5 '16 at 9:10
  • @Mitch If person A asks person B something that isn't part of their business, then telling them, by definition, makes it more complicated, no? – corsiKa Sep 6 '16 at 3:04
  • @corsiKa 'What's your salary?' Usually a simple answer. Usually uncomfortable to answer. – Mitch Sep 6 '16 at 11:35
13

A common phrase in the U.S. which may be used humorously outside a legal setting - you could avoid answering a question by responding:

"I plead the fifth"

Especially appropriate, if you believe that answering the question would not be in your best interests. Of course, in some cases this is just as telling as actually answering the question - but can still be helpful to avoid disclosing lurid or impolite details.

Another, more coy way of responding:

"Some things are better left unsaid"

Which implies that it would be inadvisable to answer the question, due to (most likely) offending the sensibilities of either the person asking or answering the question, or even someone within earshot.

  • While I don't like these as much as some of the others, these are both excellent in the right situation. – corsiKa Sep 6 '16 at 3:03
10

deflection is the most polite way of dealing with unwanted questions. Look away and remark that the birds are flying south early this year. Works every time.

  • 2
    Or "oooh look a bunny rabbit" and then start skipping away... – Lyall Sep 2 '16 at 15:42
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    +1, or How 'bout those Yankees, huh? :) – John Sep 2 '16 at 20:03
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    I had to join this site just to upvote this answer. Been there before XD – Brevan Ellefsen Sep 4 '16 at 18:31
  • 1
    Living in Canada, I have found more pointless conversations about the weather in 5 years than I did my entire life down in the states. They wouldn't hesitate to start talking about how sunny/snowy/cold it is. – corsiKa Sep 6 '16 at 3:06
  • 1
    That would have been my answer: More or less politely and subtly, change topic. – Peter A. Schneider Sep 6 '16 at 14:27
10

During conference disussion I'd use:

I am sorry; it is classified.

or

I am not permitted to disclose the details right now.

  • Makes me think of 'I can tell you but I'd have to kill you" or "You haven't been read-in" :) – Lyall Sep 2 '16 at 15:41
  • 1
    I've been binge watching Suits on Netflix, so naturally "That's privileged" also comes to mind. – corsiKa Sep 6 '16 at 3:05
9

You could tell them that That is private.

  • 2
    Welcome to English Language & Usage, a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.This site strives to provide objective answers. Take the site tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good answers. – Helmar Sep 2 '16 at 13:11
  • 1
    We appreciate the desire to help, but please consider either expanding your answer or deleting it. Questions should be answered as an expert would answer them: comprehensively, with explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Unsupported answers may be removed. (more¹) (more²) – MetaEd Sep 2 '16 at 14:59
  • 1
    Alternatively, "That is a private matter." – 200_success Sep 2 '16 at 19:53
8

I have often found that rather than saying something that means the same and could sound relatively aggressive, usually don’t worry about it is sufficient. Or even it’s nothing.

However both of these are used when it’s none of their business as you don’t want to tell them, rather than explicitly telling them that it’s none of their business. Such is the (my) British way of avoiding confrontation at all costs.

  • 5
    "don't worry about it", interesting alt (+1). – Eilia Sep 2 '16 at 14:55
  • 1
    I like this and have used it a few times myself. Feels almost edgy, even. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 3 '16 at 20:35
  • I hate it when someone uses this approach to respond to a question I didn't realize would cause a problem. – aparente001 Sep 5 '16 at 0:44
  • @aparente001 yes, but it does get the message across doesn't it :) – Lyall Sep 5 '16 at 7:51
  • 1
    @aparente001 in most cases I think 'none of your business' is perceived as an aggressive response whereas 'don't worry about' can be said with a smile or passed off in a passive manner. If you say 'none of your business' with a smile it will come over as sarcastic (or perhaps not sarcasm, but a word that escapes me)... – Lyall Sep 5 '16 at 13:21
8

The best way not to answer will always depend on the question asked - there are often ways to give a general answer with a level of detail that you're comfortable with.

But to learn how to avoid any question entirely, watch a politician being interviewed.

They'll be nice, they'll offer a compliment, they'll give an answer, it just won't be an answer to the question asked.

Thank you for that question, it's a question that's been asked a lot lately and it brings us to the real heart of this matter which is {...something completely different and here is my opinion on it...}

It's not as confrontational as many other, more direct, ways of saying 'not saying'.

It just doesn't answer the question without ever saying I'm not going to answer that question. It doesn't begin to answer the question. It doesn't even say if the question is valid or invalid.

What the (non)answer does, as requested by the OP, is politely and gently moves the conversion elsewhere.

The technique is called bridging, and there's a good intro to it here: https://www.fastcompany.com/3054734/lessons-learned/7-ways-to-change-the-subject-more-effectively-than-a-presidential-candidate

6

Ask a question in return. Not rudely, just curiously:

"Why do you want to know?"

  • 1
    Similarly, from the Fast Company article linked to in Ben Aveling's answer: "What prompted your interest in the subject?" – jkdev Sep 6 '16 at 5:09
  • And it is a polite alternative to "What's it to you?", as Chris Petheram points out in a comment to alwayslearning's answer here. – jkdev Sep 6 '16 at 5:15
  • Yes and even better, drop "…do you want to know" and just respond "Why?" Still in the realm of the serious consider also:" After you…" To make it light-hearted try: "If I told you that, you'd have to die…" If light heart is not appropriate, make sure you can carry off a poker face with a truly chilling stare… – Robbie Goodwin Sep 16 '16 at 22:37
5

When somebody asks a question that isn't their business, you can reply with "I don't think that is relevant", which basically conveys the same message, without making it personal (As it refers to the topic, not to the relationship of the information and the two of you)

As an example:
(there is a general discussion regarding cola-compositions)
Bert: I really think cola is better when it uses plant extracts for sweetening instead of sugar.
Ernie: Didn't you date the niece of Mr. Cola?
Bert: I don't think that is relevant

  • 3
    Your example could be interpreted as an admission of guilt with regard to canoodling the niece, followed by a deflection. – Spehro Pefhany Sep 2 '16 at 14:16
3

You could say:

I'm sorry, that information is proprietary.

  • Similar: "I'm afraid that information is only available on a need-to-know basis." – joeytwiddle Sep 5 '16 at 2:50
  • "...and you don't need to know." (Movie quote from Nicolas Cage in The Rock) – jkdev Sep 6 '16 at 5:05
3

It depends on the case, but I have often used:

“I’m sorry, but we don’t know each other that well.”

And if you work in the tech world—and someone is asking you about a client or project—it’s safe to say something like this even if you don’t have an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to deal with:

“I signed an NDA so there’s not much I can say past what I have told you.”

Or if you want to take on a passive-aggressive tactic to something like this, say something like:

“Can can I get back to you on that?”

…followed by something like saying you are busy, tired, burned out or just not in the mood to talk.

Generally when you tell someone “I’ll get back to you…” in a case like that people tend to let it go and forget it. Why? Easy! Many times people ask prying questions only to gossip in the moment but then forget about it as time passes; few people actually will call you out on delaying a response unless it’s a critical situation.

2

How about:

That's for me to know and you to find out. (smile)

This works especially well in response to personal questions you don't want to answer. For example:

Person A: Do you believe in God?

Person B: That's for me to know and you to find out. (smile)

Person A: Are you going to vote for Trump or Clinton?

Person B: That's for me to know and you to find out. (smile)

Reference:

that's for me to know and you to find out : a phrase used to reply to a question whose answer the speaker doesn't want to reveal

  • 7
    I wouldn't say that, because it's not for you to find out. – Anton Sherwood Sep 2 '16 at 19:34
  • @AntonSherwood That's for me to know and you to find out is a common phrase, in the U.S. at least. I added a reference. Thanks. – Richard Kayser Sep 2 '16 at 19:49
  • 1
    I know it's a common phrase, having lived in the U.S. at least. Is it safe to assume that no listener will take it as a challenge to find out by other means? – Anton Sherwood Sep 2 '16 at 21:02
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    I should have said: I do hear it as such a challenge, or as a tentative promise to spill the beans later. Am I really such a freak? Are most children sternly taught that one must not consider the literal meanings of set phrases? – Anton Sherwood Sep 2 '16 at 23:45
  • 1
    @AntonSherwood I take your point, but aren't you falling into the trap you've just described so well: considering the literal meaning of set phrases? If you were to ask me a question I didn't want to answer, and I were to respond, "That's for me to know and you to find out (smile)," I can assure you there would be no ambiguity about my meaning. You would feel shut down, not challenged. – Richard Kayser Sep 2 '16 at 23:58
2

A line from the TV show House of Cards works in this situation: "I couldn't possibly comment." It's ambiguous between readings where the information is sensitive, uncertain, or not any of the listener's business.

References:

2

There are so many types of situations where this can come up. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

If you have a good connection with the person, and want to preserve that closeness, you may be able to be honest, and say

That's not something I feel comfortable talking about at this point, or That's not something I can talk about just now.

In terms of deflection, I have often found that the best way to do it is to suddenly express lots of interest in the other person, for example:

Wait, before we get into that, I've been wanting to ask you -- what did you think of yesterday's exam?

There are lots and lots of ways of turning attention back onto the other person -- that was just an example.

Note, with this technique, you may need to establish a pattern of deflecting attention in this way over the course of several weeks or months, until the person gets the idea that you enjoy your interactions with him or her, but you are stubbornly not going to answer the question, and furthermore, you are not going to acknowledge that you don't want to answer the question.

2

'Thank-you for your interest, and...' going on to talk about something else.

Which may seem very mild, but to a native English speaker, is really quite rude and abrupt, equivalent to telling someone to 'get lost!'

However as it is ostensibly very polite, it may not be seen that way!

Many absolute insults or fairly severe brush-offs in English take the form of mild phrases such as these. The meaning is quite extreme, in English, but often goes over the head of, and is baffling to, those who are speaking English as a foreign language.

1

At work we've been instructed to say to reporters:

I'm not at liberty to discuss this. The media relations department is better qualified to answer your questions.

Assuming you don't have a media relations department, leave out the second sentence. Alternatively say "that is my business".

  • As an effective and funny response, the two sentences together would actually work great! Imagine saying that to your mother when she starts pestering about "when are you going to give me a grandchild"? – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 3:58
1

An alternative is what’s it to you?Wiktionary:

(defensively) Why are you asking? Why do you want to know?.

  1. "I saw you in the chemist yesterday, what did you buy?" / "What's it to you?"
  2. Mind your own business; it's none of your business. "Hey, leave that girl alone." / "'What's it to you'?"

Usage notes: This is usually used defensively, against someone who is being nosy.

  • 8
    Yes, it's rather more confrontational than "defensive". In certain parts of the UK I'd rather not mention, saying that to a stranger is quite likely to escalate beyond a mere verbal brush-off. – Peter Point Sep 2 '16 at 7:56
  • @PeterPoint, but then, a stranger is unlikely to get nosy and then one is very unlikely to even respond to such a stranger. I believe this is a bit subjective, in the end. – alwayslearning Sep 2 '16 at 8:01
  • 4
    I would say the two other phrases there: "Why do you ask?" / "Why do you want to know?" are more polite ways of forcing the asker to defend their interest in information that doesn't concern them. – Chris Petheram Sep 2 '16 at 9:38
  • 2
    I will point out that the questioner asked for a "more gentle alternative" to "none of your business". This is less gentle. – Ben Aveling Sep 5 '16 at 4:16
  • 1
    Yes, if you used that in England and even more so, in Sauciehall Street, I think you'd be quite quickly involved in fisticuffs. – Jelila Dec 15 '17 at 9:26
1

Say in a casual, or even upbeat, yet very matter-of-fact way:

"Sorry, classified."

  • Preferably with a smile on your face. :) – jkdev Sep 8 '16 at 21:36
0

If someone is asking me something that is truly none of their business, then that person, not myself, is the one being rude and impolite and I feel no need to suffer them gladly. I like to go with the silent icy stare.

  • Sometimes, the question is perfectly reasonable, but the answer is "none of their business". If my best friend asks "Where are you?" and I'm at the bar after promising my wife to stay sober, I don't want to lie or be rude, but I also don't want to tell the truth. I broke a promise to my wife. That may be her business, but it's not my friend's. – Joey Adams Sep 26 '18 at 23:16
0

I have always like words such us personal and sharing, some ideas:

I'm sorry, that is personal.

I'm not a allowed to share that with you.

I don't feel like talking about that now.

I'm sorry, I'm not ready to share that with you.

If you don't like them you can be just like the Buddha and keep 'noble silence'.

  • You could say "None of your bees' wax":) – Bill S. Sep 6 '16 at 19:00
0

That's neither here nor there.

neither here nor there: Unimportant and irrelevant (American Heritage)

-1

If you really have to say it so directly you could, depending on the context, say 'mind your own beeswax', the word 'beeswax' was apparently slang for a bore back in the 19th Century.

beeswax noun Business; concern : If they did, that's their own beeswax (1940s+)

beeswax. (n.d.). The Dictionary of American Slang. Retrieved September 2, 2016 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/beeswax

  • "My business, I'm afraid" (with a smile) Nice way of acknowledging that your refusal but also that you refuse – Timo Sep 5 '16 at 17:00
  • That looks like folk etymology if I've ever seen it. – Matt Samuel Sep 5 '16 at 17:29

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