25 top tips on how to disagree | Ways to disagree respectfully
Updated: Mar 18
Learning how to disagree in a foreign language can be difficult due to a big variety of factors. Culture, age and position in society can all affect how we disagree with one another. In this post we will look at ways to disagree in English – both in a casual context, and in more formal or respectful situations. Read on to find out how!
First, we shall look at how to disagree with someone in a polite way. These expressions can typically be used for business meetings (business English). Also, most cultures around the world follow the concept of respecting people who are older. So, with this in mind, these phrases are also good for disagreeing with individuals older than yourself.
Top phrases for disagreeing respectfully:
1. I understand what you’re saying but…
2. I can see where you’re coming from, however...
3. That’s a fair point, but
4. That’s a valid point, but
5. I can see your argument, however
6. I agree up to a point, but…
7. I definitely see what you’re saying, but...
8. I’m not sure it’s the best idea
9. There might be an easier way to do this
Here are some examples:
A: We need to spend more on advertising
B: I understand what you’re saying, but we increased the budget last month.
A: I’d like to dismiss Ronald, he isn’t producing results
B: I’m not sure that’s the best idea. I think it would be better to offer him some more training.
A: I think Chinese food is the healthiest in the world!
B: That’s a valid point, a lot of Chinese food is healthy. But many other countries have healthy food, too. For example…
A: We should travel from Belgium to Spain by hire car. It’s the best way,
B: There might be an easier way to do this. How about high-speed rail?
Now, let’s look at how to disagree in a direct way. These types of expressions can be used in casual situations, or when you are with people that you have a relaxed and friendly relationship with. For example, with your classmates, or host brother or sister, if you are on a homestay. We will start with the most direct ways to disagree, which need to be used with care. Only use these if you are already very comfortable speaking to someone.
Very direct expressions of disagreement
10. I disagree
11. Are you serious?
12. What are you talking about?
13. What are you on about
14. No way
17. I totally disagree
Here are some examples:
A: Doughnuts are an excellent snack
B: Are you serious? They are absolutely full of calories!
A: I think we should go to the beach this weekend.
B: What are you on about? Didn’t you hear that a typhoon is coming?
A: John, would you take the garbage out?
B: No way! I took it out last time. It’s your turn!
How to disagree without being as direct
18. Hmm…I don’t think so
19. Really? I’m not so sure
20. Do you really think so?
21. I don’t understand where you’re coming from
22. Not necessarily…
23. Yes, but have you thought about…
24. We aren’t on the same page
25. Sorry, I have to disagree
We’ve gone over 25! But that’s okay, the more the merrier!
26. I’m not with you (I don’t understand)
27. I beg to differ
28. On the contrary…
29. That’s not how I see it
Here are some examples:
A: I think shops should stop using plastic bags. It’s bad for the environment.
B: Yes, but have you thought about what people will use to carry things home?
A: The Braves are the best team!
B: I beg to differ. My team won the league last year, or had you forgotten?
A: The best way to lose weight is to drink low-calorie drinks.
B: That’s not how I see it. Losing weight is far more complicated than that.
How to disagree respectfully
So, we have the phrases necessary for disagreeing. But, another thing we need to think about is the way we use these phrases. Disagreeing with someone can cause them to get upset, annoyed or make an unpleasant atmosphere. This is not an English-language issue. This is universal across all of humankind.
Common sense dictates that you should listen to the other speaker's viewpoint, and show appreciation for their input. You could use a phrase such as: “I know how you feel about this, and I don’ want to upset you, but…” Or if you have to criticize someone on work they have done, you could say: “ I appreciate all the work you’ve put into this, I really do. It’s just that I’m not sure the design is the appropriate”
Another thing to always remember is to keep calm. Don’t raise your voice or get angry. Speak calmly and perhaps a little slower than you would normally. If you get angry or shout, the other person will naturally feel defensive and therefore they’ll be less open to your opinions.
When you need to disagree with someone, you need to judge the situation correctly before speaking. That’s why there are so many ways to disagree in English! Is it a causal, friendly conversation? If so, use direct disagreement phrases such as “I disagree”. If the conversation is more formal, or you are using business English, tread very carefully! Use expressions like “That’s a valid point, but how about…” And finally, think about how the other person will feel after you speak, and show empathy and appreciation for their opinions. If you can do these things, you’ll be well on your way to using phrases naturally!
Cheers and have a great day!