How to Politely Decline an Invitation

graduation party invitation and rsvp

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Have you ever received an invitation that you couldn't accept? Here are some ways you can decline any party invitation with sincerity and etiquette to show respect for the person who sent it to you.


How do you quickly—and politely—decline an invitation? Use the right words, such as "thank you," "I'm honored," and "I'm so sorry," all of which will soften your response.

Remember that this is an invitation, not an order to be there. Of course, the person wants you to go, or they wouldn't have asked. However, if something else prevents you from attending, there is nothing wrong with declining. The key is to let the person know whether or not you can accept the invitation as soon as possible and in a polite manner.

How to Politely Decline an Invitation

Here are some tips on how to turn down an invitation in the most polite way:

  1. Don't ignore the invitation. Putting the invitation aside to deal with later isn't good for you or the person who sent it. The host needs to know whether or not you'll be there. Ignoring the invitation shows that you don't know proper manners, and you might be left off the guest list for the next party. 
  2. Don't wait. As soon as you know you'll be unable to go, let the person know. Most events require planning and budgeting.
  3. Be thankful. Always sincerely thank the person for inviting you and let them know that you're honored that they think highly enough of you to send the invitation.
  4. Be honest. You don't ever have to come up with false excuses for why you're unable to go to the event, but you also don't have to go into detail. Let them know that you already have plans. That should be enough.
  5. Ask for a different time. If the invitation is exclusive to you, let the person know you're unable to make it at the time requested, but you'd love to get together at another time. This is obviously not an option if it's a group get-together.
  6. Don't over-explain. If you can't make it, keep your explanation short and to the point. Doing otherwise will make it sound like you're just trying to come up with excuses.
  7. Send something. If you would typically bring a gracious gift to whatever event you were invited to, such as a birthday party or baby shower, go ahead and send something with a card attached. Mention something about wishing you could be there and add that you look forward to seeing them soon.
How to Politely Decline and Invitation

The Spruce / Chloe Giroux

Examples of Polite Ways to Verbally Decline an Invitation

  • "Sounds like great fun, but I'm afraid I have a family event that makes joining you impossible next week. Please say hi to other guests for me."
  • "Ordinarily, I'd love to join you, since we always have fun. But we just got over that virus that's going around, and it's probably better than I rest and recuperate. Once I'm feeling better, though, I'd love to get together."
  • "I'm afraid we'll be traveling that day, so we won't be able to accept your invitation. Another time, maybe?"
  • "Thanks for thinking of me. But unfortunately, we have relatives staying with us, so the timing doesn't work. But let's find another date to get together."
  • "This sounds like fun and I'd really love to get together, but I have a critical work project due, and need to put my nose to the grindstone to get it done. Can I call you when the dust settles?"
  • "It was nice of you to think of us, but I'm afraid we'll have to take a rain check. We're already scheduled for another event. But let's look at our calendars and see if there's a free date for dinner or a movie."

Proper Tone and Wording for Declining an Invitation

Sometimes you can state your response in person, on the phone, or simply a check mark on an RSVP card. However, there may be times when you need to write a note. The tone of your letter should reflect your relationship with the person who invited you. If it is a close personal friend, it will be much less formal than one for a business acquaintance.

Below are some examples of how you can decline in writing.

Example #1: Declining birthday party

Dear Joan,

Thank you so much for inviting me to your birthday party. Unfortunately, I already have plans for that night, so I won't be able to attend. I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating this special occasion.

Your pal,


Example #2: Declining promotion party

Dear George,

Congratulations on your new position! I wish I could attend your promotion party, but I'll be out of town that weekend. Maybe we can get together for drinks soon, and you can tell me all about your new job. I wish you the very best.



Example #3 Declining graduation event

Dear Harley,

Thank you for the invitation to your daughter's graduation party. I know how proud you are. If I could make it, I definitely would, but I've already booked my flight out of town to visit my parents. Please congratulate her for me and let her know I'll be there in spirit.

Your friend,


Example #4: Declining business luncheon

Dear Mr. Jones,

I received your invitation to your company's luncheon. I regret to inform you that I won't be able to attend due to another business commitment. Thank you for thinking of me.


Arthur Smith

When You Should Decline an Invitation

As much as you'd like to go to everything you're invited to, there are times when you simply can't. Perhaps you already have plans for that particular time, or you have to work. Or maybe you're exhausted and need to pull it in for a while. Overextending yourself can cause you to get your wires crossed, making you appear flaky and unreliable.

You might be tempted to not respond because you don't want to hurt the person's feelings, or you worry that you won't get invited to their next event. Maybe you think that if you ignore the invitation, it won't be a big deal to simply not show up. That's flawed thinking because ignoring it is rude and inconsiderate.

Even if you're the kind of person who has a difficult time saying no, you need to dig deep and do the right thing by politely letting the host know that you are unable to attend. You don't have to draw out an excuse. In fact, it's better to be brief but polite. And you need to do it sooner rather than later so the person can do a better job with planning.

Remember that sending regrets to an invitation doesn't mean you're rejecting the person who sent it to you. It's simply a statement that you are unable to attend whatever you've been invited to.

Follow Up Later

After the event, it is fine to call the person and ask how the event went. You may want to express your regrets about not being able to make it, but if you do that, have a positive attitude. You might want to say something like, "It sounds like you had a wonderful time."