How to say No in Japanese

You’d think that saying No in Japanese would be as simple as remembering a single phrase. But as Japanese has a bunch of formalities, it makes it a little more complicated.

How you say No in Japanese can change depending on who you’re speaking to. On top of that, the Japanese are very polite people, which means that they don’t often say No directly as often as you might think!

This means that there are a bunch of ways you can say No in Japanese, No politely in Japanese, or no thank you. It’s in the Japanese culture to be polite when declining an invitation or saying no to something.

When Japanese people want to say No to something, being indirect in their response can be quite common.

For instance, if someone invites you to a party and you’re not too keen on going, in English you might say something like “No thank you, I don’t feel like going today.” And that would be that. In Japanese however, you would say something like “Hmmm, I’m not too sure, I think that maybe… Today is no good for me. I’m sorry to be a nuisance.”

In Japanese culture, there is a great emphasis placed on considering the face of others when saying no to them.

There are plenty of ways that you can say No in Japanese. Let’s take a look so you’ll have a suitable response for when you want to say no in Japanese.

Author’s Note: Although I have tried my best to describe the pronunciation of each expression in text form, I have also attached audio files for your convenience. The audio files presented are the natural way to pronounce each entry of “No” in Japanese, so I recommend using them when referring to pronunciation if you can!

No in Japanese

Let’s get started with the most literal way to say No in Japanese.

  • No
    いいえ
    iie

If you’re looking for a direct, and literal translation of how to say No in Japanese, いいえ (iie) would do the job. This phrase will show up as the No in Yes/No options on a confirmation screen of some kind. For example, if you’re playing a video game and it asks you: “Are you sure you want to save?” You would then select いいえ if you didn’t intend to save the game.

In terms of using this phrase, you should be careful it can give off the wrong impression if you just use this phrase on its own. If you’re looking for a way to say no to decline an invitation or refuse something, for instance, this would be the wrong phrase to use. Instead, you should use it to correct an assumption or statement.

If someone asks you if you can speak Spanish (assuming you can’t), you would say something like “No I can’t speak Spanish” in English right? It’s the same in Japanese, you would use the word いいえ, followed by a phrase such as スペイン語が喋れないです, which would translate to “No I can’t speak Spanish.”

Formality: The level of formality that you may need to use in Japanese, depends on who you’re speaking to. Sometimes, words/phrases should be completely avoided if you’re speaking to someone politely, such as a manager, teacher, or stranger. In this case, いいえ is a polite way of saying No in Japanese, so you can use this phrase for purposes where formality is necessary.

Saying No Casually

So, how can you say No in Japanese when you’re speaking to your friends or family? There are a few phrases you can use to do this, they mirror the uses of いいえ (see above). Let’s jump in!

  • No
    ううん
    uun

Casual variants of Yes and No in Japanese are particularly interesting, as they are almost not like actual words at all. Think of how we say “Uh” in English when we’re thinking. If you take that sound and add the soft N sound to the end of it, you get something like this: uh-n. This is how you can say Yes in Japanese casually: うん (un). Noticed the similarities yet? That’s right: No in Japanese casually is the same as Yes, but the “uh” sound is extended for a slightly longer duration.

Note that you don’t make the “uh” sound twice, but rather you just extend the duration you’re saying it a little.

When Japanese people say ううん in Japanese, they dip in tone when they reach the middle part of the words’ pronunciation, then rise again towards the end. Have a listen to the comparisons here for clarity.

Yes and No Pronunciation Difference

ううん (no) Pronunciation:

うん (Yes) Pronunciation:

The difference in tone makes it much easier to learn and distinguish between the two phrases. Just imagine what it would be like without the tones! Intonation and pitch accent is important in Japanese, but the number of existing tones doesn’t quite match that of the Chinese language at least!

Just like its formal counterpart いいえ (above), this phrase should be avoided when refusing things from other people.

Instead, you can use it to correct things people have said. For example, if someone asks you if you’re a Japanese person (assuming you’re not actually one), in English you’d reply with something like “no I’m not.” In Japanese, it’s the same. You’d reply first with ううん, followed by a phrase such as 日本人じゃない, which means: “I’m not a Japanese person”.

  • ううん、日本人じゃない。
    uun, nihonjin janai.
    No, I’m not a Japanese person.

Formality: As this is a casual way of saying No in Japanese, you should avoid using it with managers and teachers. you’ll find that when speaking with friends, this phrase is used a lot.

Nope in Japanese

Nope in Japanese

  • Nope
    いや
    iya

いや (iya) is a very casual way of saying “Nope” in Japanese.

When speaking this word, you pronounce it somewhat quickly. Its use is similar to how Nope is used in English.

Imagine if someone asks you if you had eaten the last bit of birthday cake they’d been saving, and they say something like: “Hey, was it you who ate my cake last night?” Your response in English might be something like “Nope, it wasn’t me.” Japanese uses a similar pattern to this, and a reply might be something like いや、食べてないよ, which translates to “Nope, I didn’t eat it.”

  • いや、食べてないよ
    iya, tabetemai yo.
    Nope, I didn’t eat your cake.

You can also use the word いやだ which is a very casual way of saying “Nope, I don’t want to.”  Imagine a reluctant child being told to go to bed by their parents.

  • いやだ。寝たくない。
    iyada. netakunai.
    No! I don’t wanna sleep.

Formality: As this is a very casual phrase, it’s best used with close family members or friends. If you were to use this phrase with your manager, you’d probably get fired quite quickly as it’s very informal.

How to say No Politely in Japanese

Chotto - saying no to an invitation in Japanese

  • It’s a little bit…
    ちょっと
    chotto

ちょっと (chotto) is used very often in the Japanese language. It’s a super common phrase that you can use to turn down requests, or refuse something.

ちょっと (chotto) is a very indirect phrase, so it’s perfect for saying No politely in Japanese.

As mentioned earlier, it’s in the Japanese culture to be polite when turning down requests, offers or invitations, etc. Because of this, no matter the reason, Japanese people use this phrase to tell people “No,” indirectly.

In English, imagine if everyone’s response in declining your invitation to attend an event was “Ah, Uhmmm, Hmmm, today is kind of…Maybe… Yeah… I’m not too sure, if…”. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little bit there, but by simply just saying ちょっと (chotto) you convey all of those hesitations at once.

Essentially, when you say ちょっと (chotto)  to say no in Japanese, you convey an “I’m not too sure if I can make it” kind of meaning to the requester. It’s used in Japanese to help preserve face.

Formality: This phrase can actually be used in both formal and casual settings. When you want to speak politely, just be sure to add the です (desu), to the end of the sentence if it’s a noun, or use the ます ending for a verb.

Using this phrase on its own, however, will typically convey the message of No to the requester.

I Wonder in Japanese

  • I wonder…
    かな
    kana

Continuing from the phrase ちょっと (chotto), as explained above, you can often combine it with かな (kana). The literal translation of かな is “I wonder…” and when used in the same sentence as ちょっと, you exaggerate the sense of indirectness, and convey an “I’m not sure…” meaning.  かな is used after a verb, whereas ちょっと will come before it. Let’s take a look at an example sentence.

ちょっと行かないかな

Remember the declining an invitation example with ちょっと earlier?  The sentence above shows an example of how you could use it. If you know that 行かない means “won’t go”, the meaning of the sentence becomes clear!

Umm… I’m not sure if I will go.

By using かな (kana) at the end of the sentence and ちょっと (chott0) at the beginning, you really emphasise the fact you don’t really want to go. Use かな (kana) when you want to say No indirectly in Japanese without hurting the other persons’ feelings.

Saying No Directly

So, what if you’re thinking that you just want to tell someone straight-up No in Japanese. Well, there are ways you can achieve this, and I’ll show you how!

  • No, impossible!
    むり
    muri

You can use むり (muri) when you want to up-right refuse someone. A direct translation to English would be “impossible,” and you can use it in Japanese the same way you do in English.

For instance, if someone asks you: “Hey, wanna come to my party tonight?” Muri. “Want to go out on a date with me?” Muri. “Fancy watching a movie with me later?” Muri. It’s a fantastic way you can say “no” to someone directly. Or perhaps you want to be even more direct, and tell someone “no” and to “go away” in Japanese.

Formality: I mean, you can up the formality by adding です (desu) to the end of the phrase, making it むりです (muri desu). But I’d still advise using it in formal situations, and here is why.

Imagine your manager asks you to do them a favour, and you respond with: “No, that’s impossible.” I’d expect that it probably wouldn’t go down well with most managers… So this phrase is best of being reserved for casual situations only.

No Good in Japanese

No Good - dame in Japanese

  • No good
    だめ
    dame

Similarly to the above むり (muri), you can use だめ (dame) to refuse invitations.

Let’s say that you’ve ordered a pizza, and you’re really hungry and really looking forward to it. You pick up the pizza and taste the first bite, and you think: “Um, this flavour is kind of disappointing…” A very unfortunate situation indeed, a situation where one might describe the pizza as だめ (dame), meaning “no good”.

If you’re busy on a day when someone has invited you out, you could also reply with:

  • 今日はだめ。
    kyou ha dame.
    Today is no good.

You may have also seen in movies or anime, where characters might scream the phrase だめ (dame). In this scenario, だめ translates to “No, stop!” or “No, that’s not allowed.”

Formality: This phrase is also a noun, so you can add です(desu) to the end of the word making it だめです (dame desu) to make it more formal.

No That’s Not It in Japanese

  • No, that’s not it!/ It’s different
    違う
    chigau

違う (chigau) is used very often to say No in Japanese. You should use it in the same way as you would use いいえ (iie) and ううん (uun).

This means that you’re best off using the phrase when you’re wanting to correct someone in regards to if something is true or not. For instance, if one of your flatmates accuses you of eating their cake, you could respond with 違う!(chigau), meaning “No, that’s not it!”

  • 違う、私じゃないもん
    chigau, watashi janai mon.
    No, it wasn’t me.

You could also use this as a response to questions such as: Are you’re a native Japanese speaker?

  • 違います、日本人のネイティブではありません
    chigaimasu. nihonjin no neiteibu deha arimasen.
    That’s not right, I’m not a native Japanese speaker.

Formality: This phrase can be used in both casual, and formal situations. To make this phrase formal, you can change it to its ます form. It would become 違います (chigaimasu).

I Don’t Think So in Japanese

  • No, I don’t think so
    そう思わない
    sou omowanai

This phrase directly translates to “I don’t think so” in English. You can also use it the same way as you would in English to state your opinion about a matter.

For example, if someone is gossiping about someone else, and they say to you “Hey, that girl, she’s super rude, don’t you think?” in Japanese, you could reply with a simple そう思わない (souomowanai) which would the same as saying “No, I don’t think that.”

  • そう思わない。優しいと思う。
    sou omowanai. yasashii to omou.
    I don’t think so. I think she’s friendly.

Formality: This phrase is a verb, so it will need to be changed into ます (masu) form. In ます (masu) form, it becomes そう思いません (souomoimasen) which is perfect for those situations that require formality.

I Don’t Have

  • No, I don’t
    ない
    nai

When someone asks you if you have something in Japanese, you’re going to need to use a specific phrase to tell them you don’t have the item. This phrase is a verb, and you can use it to tell someone that you don’t have possession of said item.

For instance, your friend asks you if you have a pen that they can borrow.  So, being the amazing friend you are, you dive into your pencil case to find a pen, only to realise that you don’t have a spare. In this case, you could respond with ない (nai). It’s the same as telling your friend “I don’t have one” in English.

  • ペンがない。ごめんね。
    pen ga nai. gomen ne.
    I don’t have a pen. Sorry.

Formality; This phrase is currently in its casual form, but to up the level of politeness, you can add です (desu) to the end of the phrase.

No Thank You in Japanese Politely

In this section, let’s take a look at some ways that you can say No Thank You in Japanese politely.

No thank you in Japanese

  • No Thank You
    結構です
    kekkou desu

This phrase is a very formal phrase in which you should use with your managers and teachers, or with strangers.

結構です (kekkou desu) is an expression that you can use to say no thank you formally. Perhaps when you go into the store, and the merchant asks if you would like to purchase any additional items, you can reply with 結構です (kekkou desu) to politely decline.

Formality: This phrase is a formal expression that you can use to politely decline something in Japanese.

No Thanks

  • No Thanks
    大丈夫
    daijoubu

You can use 大丈夫 (daijoubu) to convey something very similar to 結構です (above) but much softer. For instance, when someone asks you if you’d like/need something and you want to decline them, you can say 大丈夫 (daijoubu) which conveys a kind of no thanks.

I personally often use this expression as it comes across much warmer when refusing someone.

It is very similar to “no thanks” in English and can be used the same way. Perhaps someone asks if you want to eat some of their cake, and (assuming you don’t want any cake) you could reply 大丈夫!meaning, “no that’s alright, thanks anyway”.

This is truly a fantastic phrase to use, and I catch myself using it all the time.

Formality: Just like the previous phrases, to increase its formality you can add です (desu) to the end, making it 大丈夫です (daijoubu desu).

No Thank you in Japanese Casually

  • Nah thanks
    いらない
    iranai

When you’re speaking to friends, there are other phrases you can say apart from 大丈夫 (above) to say No Thanks. いらない (iranai) is a super casual phrase that you can use to say “Nah” in Japanese. When someone asks if you’d like something and you want to tell them kindly that you don’t, you can say いらない (iranai).

What’s interesting about いらない (iranai) though, is that it is actually the negative form of いる (iru), meaning “need”. This means that when you say いらない (iranai) you’re literally saying “I don’t need it”. Imagine saying you don’t need cake in English!

  • ケーキを食べる?。
    ke-ki wo taberu?.
    Want some cake?

As a reply:

  • ケーキをいらない。
    ke-ki wo iranai.
    Nah thanks.

Now for some dialect for you! In Kansai, they say いらん (iran) as opposed to いらない. Super casual!

  • 酒いらん。
    sake iran.
    I’ll pass on the alcohol.

Formality: This is a very casual phrase that should be avoided when speaking to managers, teachers, or strangers.

No Problem in Japanese

We have our own detailed article on how to say no problem in Japanese here!

Oh No in Japanese

There are a few ways you can Oh No in Japanese, some being a little more informal than others. In this section, let’s take a look at some of the phrases!

shimatta - Oh no in Japanese

  • Oh no/Oh crap
    しまった
    shimatta

This phrase is something you can blurt out when you make a mistake, very similar to “Oh no” or “Oh Crap” in English. For instance, if you miss your train, you could say しまった (shimatta). It’s the same as English!

  • Oh Shoot
    やばい・やばー
    yabai/yaba-

やばい (yabai) has many, many uses. You can use it to describe something as either crazy, sick, delicious, terrible, and many more. This phrase is incredibly informal, so it should be avoided during formal situations. It is has a very similar use to “Oh Shoot” or “Oh S**t” in English. Some Japanese people will say やばー which means the same thing, just a little more informal.

  • Oops
    うわっ!
    uw-a

You can use うわっー (uw-a) during situations where you make a mistake and are surprised. For instance, if you’re holding a glass, and you suddenly drop it, you might say うわっ! (uw-a) in Japanese, or “Oops” in English.

That’s it from us today! As there are many ways to say No in Japanese, it can be difficult to select the right phrase to decline or refuse something. I hope you enjoyed your read and found some useful phrases and expressions here!


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