Introduction:

Not being able to or not wanting to attend a business meeting, presentation, appointment etc... happens all the time. And although the people who have invited you may be unhappy that you aren't going, they will be a lot more annoyed if you fail to turn up (be there) without informing them before. So it's both polite and professional in English to inform them you can't attend/go as soon as you can. And it is recommended to provide a brief and non-detailed reason why you can't attend/go. The reason needs to be something that will not offend the person receiving the email. So don't say that you have an invitation to something more important. Also, it's professional to try to re-arrange the meeting for a different date.

In this online exercise on writing emails in English, we will look at 3 different ways of saying in an email that you can't attend a meeting in business English. We will look at both formal and informal phrases that can be used.

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Examples & Exercise: Can't attend a meeting emails

Read the following three short emails where the writer is informing the person they can't attend/go to a business meeting. Two are written in a formal style and one in a neutral style. One of the emails is turning down (not accepting) an invitation to meeting, whilst the other two are informing someone they can't attend after they have accepted the invitation.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Email 1

Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for the invitation to the review meeting on the 12 July. Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment that I am unable to change, I will not be able to attend the meeting.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on my mobile, 6902341899.

I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Yours Sincerely,

T Berridge


Email 2

Hi John,

I hope that everything's going well over there?

I'm afraid that I can't make tomorrow's meeting. Something very important has just come up and I'm going to be very busy tomorrow.

I'm sorry for the short notice, but I just found out this morning.

Is there any chance we can put the meeting back until Friday?

Let me know if it's OK for you.

Regards

Will


Email 3

Dear Miss Garland,

With reference to the upcoming review meeting on Thursday the 13 November, I am afraid that due to personal reasons I will not be able to attend.

Would you object if we postponed the meeting to next week? If this is appropriate, what day would be convenient for you?

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on my mobile, 1902341892.

Allow me to apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,

D Mitchell


 Link to Dictionary


Quiz: Can't attend a meeting email

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. An informal/neutral way to say that you can't attend something, is
             

I can't make:
(verb) In this context 'to make' has the same meaning as 'to attend'. Although it seems strange to use the verb 'make' in this context, it is very common (more common than using 'attend' which sounds more formal), e.g. 'I can make the meeting'. It is also used for parties, meals, presentation etc... In Spanish: "no puedo ir a".

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I can't make:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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2. An explanation why you can't do something because of something in your private life, is
             

Due to personal reasons:
(phrase) It is polite to give a reason when you can't do or attend something. But it needs to be a good reason and something that won't offend the person you're informing. 'Due to personal reasons' is a very good reason because people generally won't ask you for more inform on the subject. In Spanish: "por razones personales".

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Due to personal reasons:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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3. When someone is informed of changes to something just before it is planned to happen, it is
             

Short notice:
(noun) It is often used as an apology, when there is little time between being informed of something and it actually happening, e.g. 'I can't come this afternoon, sorry for the short notice'. In Spanish: "poco antelación".

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Short notice:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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4. An explanation why you can't do/attend something that refers to a previous arrangement/plan, is
             

Due to a prior commitment:
(phrase) It is polite to give a reason when you can't do or attend something. This is an excellent phrase to use as a reason, because it doesn't specify what the commitment or arrangement is. This phrase should only be used when you are not accepting an invitation. It should never to be used to say you can't go to a meeting after you have already accepted the invitation. In Spanish: "por problemas de agenda".

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Due to a prior commitment:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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5. A very formal way to apologise that sounds like you're asking their permission to do it, is
             

Allow me to apologise for:
(phrase) It is very polite due to the 'allow me', which makes it sound like asking permission. If you have apologised before in the email then it is custom to add 'once again' to the phrase and write it at the end of the email, e.g. 'Allow me to apologise once again for any inconvenience caused'. In Spanish: "permítame a discuplarle por".

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Allow me to apologise for:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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6. A very formal way to ask if it's possible to have a meeting later, is
             

Would you object if we postponed:
(phrase) This is very professional, because it allows you to make a suggestion to someone and at the same time it informs them that it's their decision. Remember to use the second verb in the past simple, e.g. 'Would you object if I didn't go tonight?'. In Spanish: "le molestaria si aplazamos".

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Would you object if we postponed:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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7. An informal explanation why you can't attend a meeting that doesn't say the reason, is
             

Something very important has just come up:
(phrase) This basically means that something very serious has unexpectedly happened and you have to focus on it. It's a good reason to use with colleagues, but people may ask you what the reason is and it may not sound very professional to clients. In Spanish: "acaba de surgir algo importante".

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Something very important has just come up:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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8. A formal way to ask someone what day they would prefer to have a meeting on, is
             

What day would be convenient for you:
(phrase) This is formal and has the same meaning as the more neutral 'what day would suit you'. You can replace 'day', with 'time' or 'place'. In Spanish: "qué dia te viene bien".

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What day would be convenient for you:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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9. An informal way to ask someone if it's possible to have a meeting later, is
             

Any chance we can put the meeting back:
(phrase) It is the informal equivalent of 'Would you object if we postponed the meeting', asking the person receiving the email to decide. 'to put back' has the same meaning as 'to postpone'. In Spanish: "alunga posibilidad que podemos aplazar la reunion".

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Any chance we can put the meeting back:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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10. When you have a lot of things to do, you are
             

Busy:
(adjective) It is used with the verb 'to be', e.g. 'I was busy'. An expression with a similar meaning is 'to be tied up'. In Spanish: "ocupado".

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Busy:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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Practice

Now that you understand the can't attend/go to a meeting vocabulary, practice them by creating your own email in English with the new words/phrases.