How to Politely Decline an Invitation

invitation and flower
If you can't accept an invitation, let the person know as soon as possible. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Have you ever received an invitation that you couldn't accept? Do you struggle with how to decline without hurting someone's feelings or causing conflict? Does it bother you to turn someone down? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you're not alone. In fact, this happens to most people at some time in their lives. 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.

When You Must 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.

Remember that declining 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.

How to Graciously 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. She needs to know whether or not you'll be there. Ignoring the invitation shows that you don't know proper etiquette, and you might be left off the guest list for her 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.
  1. Be thankful. Always sincerely thank the person for inviting you and let her know that you're honored that she'd think highly enough of you to send the invitation.
  2. 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 her know that you already have plans. That should be enough.
  1. 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 she requested, but you'd love to get together with her at another time.
  2. 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.
  3. Send something. If you would typically bring a gift to whatever event you were invited to, such as a birthday party or baby shower, go ahead and send something.

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.

Here are some examples of how you can decline in writing:

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,

Mavis

________

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.

Always,

Jenna

________

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,

James

________

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.

Sincerely,

Arthur Smith