A friend of mine asked me once what he could say if he was asked about a colleague or a friend not being able to attend a meeting or a party because of, for example, confidential health or family problems, or any private matters. What he wants to say -without being specific or giving any reasons-is something like

He has some personal circumstances"

It's unlikely that the phrase "personal circumstances" sound natural. So what would native speakers "vaguely" say in a situation like this. I hope it is clear that the question is not about how to give any suitable answer but rather about giving an idiomatic one that is as close in meaning as possible to the matter at hand.

You could ask for more clarification in the comments if I was not clear enough.

  • 1
    I've heard folks use "He had some private matters to attend to" and "He was retained by some private affairs". Oct 14, 2014 at 20:07
  • Private matters & private affairs; good to keep in mind, thanks.
    – learner
    Oct 15, 2014 at 9:54

3 Answers 3


'Personal circumstances' does sound natural. Native speakers do use this phrase. Due to 'personal circumstances' I cannot attend. 'Personal reasons' is also good.

In the USA saying 'health reasons', 'health issues', 'family reasons', 'family matters', is common, because just about everyone has these things and they can mean just about anything, thus people won't think twice when you say it, and your privacy is protected. These phrases are used as excuses so often that the person you are telling this to might realize you are using these phrases as a way of saying 'I am not willing to tell you the real reason, and it is none of your business. If you find that you are saying 'personal reasons', or 'personal circumstances' too often (more than once) you can always, at least in American culture, resort to 'health issues' or 'family issues' and still retain your privacy.

  • Wow, problem solved! Thank you very much. To my surprise, it is used. I did some quick search on COCA and Google books. I'm sorry I was misled by some search on Google and was predisposed to think it was wrong, don't know why.
    – learner
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:13
  • 2
    I agree with this - but I'd make it less formal, it still sounds a little like corporate PR speak. I'd say "He had some stuff going on." Oct 14, 2014 at 20:22
  • "Some stuff going on", "Corporate PR speak". Very interested in informal language; I've had enough of stilted language and prescriptive grammar which I hate. Thank you.
    – learner
    Oct 15, 2014 at 9:57

You could say:

He was unable to attend.


He really wanted to come. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend.

You should then try to change the subject.

If pressed further, you could say

I'm not at liberty to say.


I'm not at liberty to say why he couldn't attend.

You should then change the subject of the conversation.

  • Thanks @Jasper. I don't know if such an expression exists in English, but if there was such one I would love to know it. If the absent person had some obligations, I could say he has some "serious/pressing personal obligations" as in "The judge is worried about losing some jurors who have some personal obligations to attend to.-CNN ShowBiz 2011" but I'm unable to find an idiomatic/"collocational" phrase with words such as personal or circumstances or similar words, so please bear with me.
    – learner
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:01
  • 1
    @learner -- The phrases you mention are appropriate. I thought you wanted something even vaguer.
    – Jasper
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:05
  • Forgive my English, it is not always easy to make people guess what you want. Your answer was helpful to me though in the process.
    – learner
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:17
  • 2
    "Personal circumstances" is nice in that it tells the listener that they shouldn't ask further questions, but doesn't give any information about the severity. "I'm not at liberty to say" gives away that there is something serious, "personal circumstances" just says "none of your business".
    – gnasher729
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:51

I'm not a native speaker. But "own reasons" seems correct. As in

He has his own reasons for not attending the party.

  • 11
    One might infer that he disliked the hosts.
    – TimR
    Oct 14, 2014 at 16:43

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