Question from English4Today member Gireesh in the United Arab Emirates:

Which one of the following sentences is correct having the meaning like “cannot accept…” ?

1) We regret to accept your letter…..
2) We regret not to accept your letter……

Hi Gireesh, I’m afraid neither one of your examples is correct. The verb ‘regret‘ is not followed by the infinitive form of the verb (e.g. ‘to accept’) but more usually by the gerund form (-ing) or by a relative pronoun such as ‘that‘. Of course, another problem here is that the verb for ‘regret accepting‘ does not mean the same as ‘cannot accept‘.

Let’s look at how we can use regret + accept to give the sense you want – we’ll have to add a little more to your sentences to do this:

  • We regret not being able to accept your letter …

Now, we are using an equivalent of can (meaning having the ability to do something) which is ‘to be able to‘. We then need to make that negative not being able to and then follow that with the verb accept. Of course, you may find it easier to use this variation with the relative pronoun ‘that’ :

  • We regret that we can’t accept your letter.

Or, try changing the verb ‘regret‘ into an adverb:

  • Regrettably, we cannot accept your letter.

So you can see Gireesh, there’s more than one way to approach this but you have to know how to put the pieces together.

I’d suggest that you login to the members’ section of English4Today and go through some of the exercises in the grammar section and also take a look at the relative pronoun, verb formation and sentence structure sections of the English4Today Online Grammar.