How To Graciously Turn Down Any Invitation

It’s about what you say and how you say it.

Golden ring with diamond
Photo: Erstudiostok / Getty Images

Last year, my friend received 15 wedding invitations. This stacked calendar was a dream come true for a social butterfly like Sally. But for those who don't get the same kick from a full itinerary, saying yes to 15 wedding invitations may feel more like a nightmare. For those in that camp, here's the good news: You don't have to accept every invitation coming your way. But declining an invitation requires a generous helping of thoughtfulness and a healthy dose of tact. Here's how to graciously turn down an invitation of any kind.

Declining Wedding Invitations

Of all invitations, a wedding invite requires the most thoughtful response. When declining a wedding invitation, it's best to return your response card as soon as possible, then follow it up immediately with a note and gift to the couple.

This handwritten note is your best opportunity to extend gratitude for the invitation and express sadness and regret for missing the occasion. It's also an opportunity to share well-wishes for the bride and groom.

Of course, if you are close to the couple and they've assumed you would be in attendance at their wedding, they should hear the news from you before they receive your response card. In these scenarios, it's best to pick up the phone and call them as soon as you realize that you won't be able to attend.

Declining Other Types of Invitations

Whether you accept an invitation or not, the general rule is that you may reply to an invitation in the same medium you received. If your friend reaches out about a birthday party via email, it's fine to respond via email.

If listed on the invitation is a phone number, it's best to call. Regardless of the medium, your "no" response should include three or four things: thanks for the invitation, regret for missing the occasion, well-wishes when applicable, and hope that you'll see the host soon. Easy!

Never Do This One Thing

The only thing you should never, ever do is not respond. It's far better—and more polite—to let your host know as soon as possible that you won't be able to attend, rather than leaving him waiting for an answer or having to chase you down for a response. Not cool.

Timeless Invitations
Jenny DeMarco Photography

The General No-Excuses Rule

One rule that applies to declining nearly all invitations is simple: When turning down an invitation, you don't have to provide an excuse. Hear me on this: Not wanting to go to a birthday party/baby shower/backyard barbecue is a valid reason for not going. A polite host will never ask why you will not be in attendance.

A simple but vague "I have a prior commitment" should suffice if your nosy host presses you for an explanation. Pair your deflection with sincere thanks for the invitation. Even if you don't want to attend, receiving an invitation is always nice.

Of course, suppose you have a valid reason for missing an event that you otherwise would have happily attended. In that case, it's best to share it with your host, assuming your giving this explanation doesn't reveal someone else's private matters (like a health issue). Prior commitments and scheduling conflicts, like two weddings that fall on the same day, are legitimate excuses, and a gracious host will always be understanding.

The Bottom Line

So the next time you receive an invitation that you don't want to accept, just say no, but nicely.

For couples who want a little something extra for their wedding invitations, a sentimental quote written in beautiful calligraphy can be a unique and personal touch. And while there are plenty of romantic quotes floating around out there, it can be hard to narrow them down to determine which ones are wedding invitation-worthy. Here, we've collected 50 of the most popular.

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