Disagreeing with someone in English

Sorry, I can’t really go along with that.

Sometimes your opinion is different from someone else’s. It might be very different – or even the complete opposite. In this article we will explore a variety of expressions you can use to show that you disagree with someone.

WARNING! Some of the expressions at the end are VERY strong! Be careful how you use them. (Tip: Don’t use them with your boss. Remember that she’s always right!)

Let’s start by noting that British English speakers often apologise before tellling someone they disagree or that the other person is wrong:

I’m sorry, but I disagree.

This is the most basic way of expressing a contrary opinion:

I disagree (with you).

Fatima: We should cut our prices to increase sales.

Elena: I’m sorry, but I disagree. In fact, we should raise our prices and move upmarket so we can increase revenues.

You can also use an expression with can’t:

I can’t really agree with you.

I can’t really go along with that.

Jonathan: These Japanese microprocessors offer the best value.
Claire: Yeah, I’m sorry, Jonathan, but I can’t really agree with you on that. The Korean CPUs we saw are not only cheaper, but faster.

To express disagreement in a more direct way, you could say:

(I think) you’re wrong.

I completely / totally disagree (with you).

Piotr: There isn’t really a market for sustainably-farmed avocados in this region. People just want cheap food.

Heike: Sorry, Piotr, but you’re completely wrong. Consumers are definitely willing to pay a bit extra to support ethical food production.

Here are some expressions using couldn’t:

You couldn’t be more wrong.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

Very strong disagreement

OK, be REALLY careful with these!:

You’re talking out of the back of your head!

This is a nicer way of saying You’re talking out out your arse (UK)  / ass (US).

Another variation is:

You’re talking through your hat!

Also:

You don’t know what you’re talking about
I can’t believe you just said that.
If that’s what you really think, then you’re mad!

You can also use the expression What on Earth are you talking about? to express exasperation or incredulity when you’re talking to someone you completely disagree with:

Mark: We should charge customers with children an extra 5% because they make more mess and noise in the restaurant.

Sandra: What on Earth are you talking about? Families with children are our main market. The last thing we want to do is drive them away with a surcharge. 

Here’s another expression: You’re talking rubbish.

Frederic: I mean, football’s just a game, isn’t it? It’s not really that important.
Emanuele: What?! You’re talking rubbish. Football is life! It’s everything!

If you do disagree with someone, it’s more useful if you tell them why you disagree. Giving constructive criticism is generally more productive than just telling someone they’re an idiot.

If you disagree with someone’s calculations or projections, you can say:

The figures don’t add up.

(or: the figures don’t stack up in American English.)

If you’re sceptical about something, you might say:

It’s just not going to work.

If there is a logical flaw (mistake) in someone’s argument, you can use:

Your argument is full of holes / doesn’t hold water / doesn’t stand up.

Klaus: I’ve looked at your figures and they just don’t add up. I’m sorry, but there’s no way we could invest in your business.
Paula: But what about our business plan?
Klaus: I’m really sorry, Paula, but it’s full of holes.

There are some sarcastic American expressions related to space travel. These imply that the other person’s ideas are ridiculous or beyond reason:

(Said as if speaking on a radio transmitter to a space ship)

Hello? Earth to Graham! (or whoever you’re speaking to).

Another space-themed expression is:

What planet are you on?

(This is similar to the US drug-themed question (and follow-up statement): Man, what have you been smoking? (and where can I get some?)

 

Qualifying agreement (but actually disagreeing)

This is quite British. Sometimes native British English speakers sound as if they are agreeing with you, but in fact they totally disagree with your opinion:

Hm, yes, I agree you with up to a point.

Erika: In my opinion, we should just wait until Robinson’s pay their invoice. We don’t want to upset them.

George: Hm, yeah, well, I agree with you up to a point, but in fact I’ve arranged a meeting with our lawyers to start legal proceedings against them tomorrow morning.

Another classic British English thing to say is:

I’m not saying you’re wrong but…

This means: You’re (completely) wrong. Here’s why…

Max: Karl Grün is an excellent CEO. He’s really respected by people in the industry.

Timothy: Hm, yes, er, look, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but if his helicopter crashed tomorrow I don’t think many people over here would be too upset, actually.

 

© Robert Dennis, Big Business English, 2018

Now that you know how to disagree with people in English, find out how to agree with them!