I work a lot with business applications and traditionally I've used the word "disapprove" as the counterpart to application approvals (e.g. disapprove leave application, disapprove waiver). But I've the sudden realization that in real life, the only times I've ever used the word "disapprove" is in the context of expressing negativity towards someone's actions and in more formal applications I would use the words "deny" or "reject" instead. Which is the best fit for business applications in this case? Is this a reasonable use for the word "disapprove"?


4 Answers 4


I would use either of the terms you identified, deny or reject. Deny is a more neutral phrasing, with the definition to refuse to agree or accede to. By not approving their requests, you are refusing to agree to them, i.e. denying them.

Reject has a similar meaning, to refuse to grant, or, to refuse to accept. I would argue, however, that reject has a more negative connotation than deny. I might be upset if my request were denied but I would be angry if it were rejected. Rejection has more of a sense of repudiation than denial. I don't know if this is a universal connotation; I'm sure the comments will discuss that.

  • How about "disapprove"?
    – Jonn
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 1:21
  • Disapprove would certainly be acceptable, but I feel as though the other two words are more apt. As you noted, disapprove is used more in the sense of disapproving of actions.
    – Brendon
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 1:28
  • I agree that deny or reject would be more accurate if used in such a context.
    – Anicul
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 3:43
  • @John: Agree with Brendon that deny/reject are far more widely used than disapprove, even though it has the same definition.
    – Lynn
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 17:04

I use decline for this. Your application for a waiver was declined. Your submission to our magazine was regretfully declined. And so on.

It carries the sense of "I think it is absolutely wonderful but alas I just can't take advantage of it on this occasion" and is certainly more positive than disapproved.

  • 1
    +1. In order from least to most negative: decline, deny, reject. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 18:35
  • 1
    Declined is the word used in unsuccessful credit- and debit-card transactions. It tries to avoid upsetting the user just in case it's just a transient problem (as it quite often is — sometimes caused by over-zealous trend-spotting software). Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:37

As an advocate of phrasal verbs, I’d go for turn down.


In formal business communications, I was advised to stick to Regret to indicate that a request/ application could not be approved. Yes, I too was surprised then, but in course of time, I discovered that it is well understood as a polite way of saying "No". There are other cultural differences across the world, and sensitivities, to be taken into account in drafting business communications.

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