“No” in Japanese – Various ways to decline

This lesson will teach us the different ways to say “no” in Japanese. Did you know that Japanese people often use different words and expressions to decline depending on the situation and the level of politeness required?

A guy with his arms crossed in front of him

Whether you’re planning a trip to Japan or just want to learn some Japanese language and culture, this article will guide you through the various ways to decline or express reluctance in a respectful manner.

Let’s get started!

How do you say “no” in Japanese?

Learning the phrases to say “no” and “yes” in Japanese is essential for everyone.

Once you learn these, you can comfortably answer various yes-no questions and have smooth conversations with native speakers.

The most basic way to say “no” in the Japanese language is:

  • いいえ (iie | formal “no”)
  • ううん (uun | casual “no”)

Formal “no” in Japanese

いいえ (iie) is the most polite way to say “no” in the Japanese language. You can politely refuse something, reasonably negate someone’s words, and express the opposite feeling.

A: あなたはアメリカじんですか?(anata wa Amerika jin desu ka? | あなたはアメリカ人ですか?)

Are you an American?

B: いいえ、オーストラリアじんです。(iie , osutoraria jin desu. | いいえ、オーストラリア人です。)

No, I’m an Australian.

Informal “no” in Japanese

On the other hand, ううん (uun) is a more casual version. It is commonly used among children, close friends, and family members.

A: きみはニューヨークしゅっしんなの?(kimi wa nyuuyooku shusshin nano? | 君はニューヨーク出身じゃなかったっけ?)

Aren’t you from New York?

B: ううん、ぼくはロンドンうまれだよ。(uun, boku wa rondon umare dayo. | ううん、僕はロンドン生まれだよ。)

No, I’m originally from London.

Also, there’s an expression used between these two words, which is いえ (ie). This is also common in informal conversation.

A: きょうはおやすみ?(kyou wa oyasumi? | 今日はお休み?)

Are you having a day off today?

B: いえ、これからしゅっきんです。(ie, korekara shukkin desu. | いえ、これから出勤です。)

No, I’m about to leave for work now.

Interjections for Positive and Negative Responses

The words to say “yes” and “no” in the Japanese language are called かんどうし (kandou shi | 感動詞 | interjection) in the Japanese grammar term. It is a one-word expression without conjugation and is usually at the beginning of a sentence.

The positive response “yes” and the negative response “no” are parts of the おうとうし (outou shi | 応答詞 | response interjection) group.

こうていおうとう (koutei outou | 肯定応答 | positive response)

  • はい (hai)
  • ええ (ee)
  • うん (un), etc.

ひていおうとう (hitei outou | 否定応答 | negative response)

  • いいえ (iie | no)
  • いえ (ie)
  • ううん (uun), etc.

Interjections for saying “no” in Japanese

Below are several expressions related to saying “no” in Japanese

Standard Phrase used to say “no” in Japanese

If you’re not sure about the level of formality to use when talking to someone you just met, for example, then it is better to use standard or polite speech. Here’s how you can say “no” politely.

  • いいえ (iie | no)

Informal Phrases used to say “no” in Japanese

On the other hand, if you’re speaking with friends or people close to you, you can use informal or casual phrases instead.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
No.いえIe
No. No problem.いえいえIe ie
NoううんUun
No. I refuse. I disagree. On the contrary.いやIya
No. No way.いいやIiya
No. I disagree. On the contrary.いやいやIya iya
No. I dislike. I deny. On the contrary.嫌、厭いやIya
No. I deny. On the contrary.いなIna

There is a slight difference in written and spoken for those words above. For example, the Japanese words いや (Iya | 嫌、厭) and いな (Ina | 否) are more typical when written, and others are common when spoken.

Basically, these expressions mean all “no” in English. By using them, you can disagree with what someone just said, oppose someone’s opinion, and express your refusal.

However, repetitive phrases such as いえいえ (ie ie) and いやいや (iya iya) are informal ways to say “no” in Japanese. It is often considered a rude expression, so keep them in casual situations among close friends and family.

Dialogue Examples:

A: にほんははじめてですか?(nihon wa hajimete desu ka? | 日本は初めてですか?)

Is it your first time in Japan?

B: いいえ、2かいめです。(iie, ni kai me desu. | いいえ、2回目です。)

No, this is my second time.

A: いっしょにいく?(issho ni iku? | 一緒に行く?)

Why don’t we go together?

B: いや、えんりょしておく。(iya , enryo shiteoku | いや、遠慮しておく。)

Nah, I’ll pass.

A: あしたはうみにいくんだっけ?(ashita wa umi ni iku n dakke? | 明日は海に行くんだっけ?)

Are we going to the beach tomorrow?

B: いやいや、あしたはえいがにいくってやくそくしたじゃない。(iya iya, ashita wa eiga ni ikutte yakusoku shita janai. | いやいや、明日は映画に行くって約束したじゃない。)

No no, we promised to go to the movies tomorrow, remember?

A: わたしがわるいのか?(watashi ga warui no ka? | 私が悪いのか?)

Am I at fault?

B: いな、もともとはかれがついたうそがげんいんだ。(ina, motomoto wa kare ga tsuita uso ga genin da. 否、元々は彼がついた嘘が原因だ。)

No. After all, his lie caused this situation.

Does a native Japanese speaker never say “no?”

Haven’t you heard somewhere that the Japanese never say “no?” Though we have already learned several ways to say “no” in Japanese today. Then, how did they get this infamous reputation, and why is it considered a hard no?

Actually, the idea originates in the cultural difference between Western countries and Japan.

  • Japanese culture prefers showing uncertainty compared to Western when in a certain way of communication.
  • Japanese speakers favor indirect answers and using the right words centered on the other party rather than themselves.
  • Speaking up about their emotions and ideas in an obvious way doesn’t always suit Japanese virtue.
  • Uncertain replies often imply consideration for others and good courtesy in Japanese society.

Direct Way of Saying “No” in Japanese: In Casual Conversation

While giving a direct translation and expressing one’s opinion is also important in Japanese culture, people often find some phrases saying “no” too blunt or straightforward.

Yet, easy-going responses like these, using the right moment when you talk to a close friend and family, are the most common ways. These responses often leave room for further communication without causing offense, especially when both parties have some free time to discuss the matter further.

These talks frequently start with Japanese words that express surprise, such as ああ! (aa | ah! oh!) ええ?(ee | What? Oh! Wow!).

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
No, it's not. No, you're wrong.ううん、違う。ううん、ちがう。Uun, chigau.
No! No way. What? That's impossible.ええ!無理。ええ!むり。Ee! Muri.
What? I don't think so.ええ?そうは思わない。ええ?そうはおもわない。Ee? Sou wa omowa nai.
No. I don't know.ううん。分からない。ううん。わからない。Uun. Wakaranai.
No, I don't need it. No, it's not necessary.ううん、要らない。ううん、いらない。Uun, iranai.

Direct Way of Saying “No” in Japanese: In Formal Situations

People use けいご (keigo | 敬語 | honorific) when they want to show their consideration and respect in Japan. The most ordinary one is the beginner-friendly way of speaking called ていねいご (teineigo | 丁寧語 | polite language), and each sentence usually ends with です (desu) or ます (masu).

People will probably give you a clear answer, so you can easily understand “yes” or “no” by paying little attention to the context.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
No, it's not. No, you're wrong.いいえ、違います。いいえ、ちがいます。Iie, chigai masu.
Hmm. That's quite impossible.うーん。ちょっと無理です。うーん。ちょっとむりです。Uun. Chotto muri desu.
I see, but I don't think so.成程。でも、そうとは思いません。なるほど。でも、そうとはおもいません。Naruhodo. Demo, sou to wa omoi masen.
No. I don't know.いいえ。分かりません。いいえ。わかりません。Iie. Wakari masen.
No, I don't need it. No, it's not necessary.いいえ、必要ありません。いいえ、ひつようありません。Iie, hitsuyou ari masen.

Indirect Way of Saying “No” in Japanese: In More Formal Situations

Replies using けいご (keigo | 敬語 | honorific speech) and showing uncertainty are typical in formal and business situations.

Also, when answering higher-up or older individuals, Japanese people use additional respectful and humble speeches. The most polite way to speak in Japanese is using two types of keigo called そんけいご (sonkeigo | 尊敬語 | respectful language) and けんじょうご (kenjougo | 謙譲語 | humble language).

すこしちがうのではないでしょうか?(sukoshi chigau no de wa nai de shou ka? | 少し違うのではないでしょうか?)

Isn’t it a little different?

すこしむずかしいかもしれません。(sukoshi muzukashii kamo shiremasen. | 少し難しいかもしれません。)

It can be a little difficult.

なるほど。そういうかんがえかたもありますね。(naruhodo. Sou iu kangae kata mo arimasu ne. | 成程。そういう考え方もありますね。)

I see. There is also such a way of thinking.

わたしにはわかりかねます。(watashi ni wa wakari kane masu. | 私には分かり兼ねます。)

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.

いいえ、だいじょうぶです。(iie, daijoubu desu. | いいえ、大丈夫です。)

No, it’s okay. It’s not necessary.

Tips for a Polite “No” in Japanese

More polite “no” expressions in business and customer service-related situations can be confusing since the context gets more complex. Even some Japanese people can get puzzled from time to time.

So, if you become unsure about the given responses, do not hesitate to ask about the meaning behind the words. The following expressions are examples to signify apology or regret for not being able to fulfill the other party’s wishes.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
Unfortunately生憎あいにくAiniku
Please allow me to inform you恐れながらおそれながらOsore nagara
I'm afraid that恐縮ですがきょうしゅくですがKyoushuku desu ga
Excuse me, but失礼ながらしつれいながらShitsurei nagara
I'm afraid that僭越ながらせんえつながらSenetsu nagara

Sentence Examples:

たいへんきょうしゅくですが、おひきうけできかねます。(taihen kyoushuku desu ga, o hikiuke deki kanemasu. | 大変恐縮ですが、お引き受けできかねます。)

We are very sorry, but we cannot accept your request.

もうしわけありませんが、こんかいはみおくらせていただきます。 (moushiwake arimasen ga, konkai wa miokurasete itadakimasu. | 申し訳ありませんが、今回は見送らせていただきます。)

I’m terribly sorry. I’ll have to postpone this time.

Tips for using Keigo

When you are unsure about the correct politeness on each occasion, we recommend following the Keigo form used by the other party.

Dialogue Examples:

A: これはえいごでかかれていますか?(kore wa eigo de kakarete imasu ka? | これは英語で書かれていますか?)

Is this written in English?

B: いいえ、ちがいます。ドイツごです。(iie, chigaimasu. Doitsu go desu. いいえ、違います。ドイツ語です。)

No, it’s not. It’s in German.

A: おそれいりますが、おなまえをうかがえますか?(osoreirimasu ga, onamae wo ukagaemasu ka? | 恐れ入りますが、お名前を伺えますか?)

Excuse me, but may I ask your name?

B: いえ、えんりょさせていただきます。(ie, enryo sasete itadakimasu. | いえ、遠慮させていただきます。)

No, thank you.

Other indirect answers that mean “no” in Japanese

The following words and phrases don’t necessarily have negative meanings, but people often use them as an answer close to a “no” in Japan.

A definite “no”

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
rejection, dismiss却下きゃっかKyakka
to withhold, to restraint遠慮するえんりょするEnryo suru

An obscure “no”

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
difficult, tough厳しいきびしいKibishii
difficult, troublesome難しいむずかしいMuzukashii
difficult, tough大変たいへんTaihen
complicated, unclear微妙びみょうBimyou
to consider, to look into検討するけんとうするKentou suru
to think about, to consider考えるかんがえるKangaeru

A light surprise and “no”

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
No way. It's outrageous.とんでもないTondemo nai
No way. It can't be.まさかMasaka
You must be joking.ご冗談をごじょうだんをGo joudan wo

Phrases that could mean “yes” and “no”

Some Japanese phrases can mean both “yes” and “no.” To understand them correctly, please pay close attention to the question sentences and answers.

“No problem” in Japanese

If you’d like to express “no problem,” “it’s fine,” or “it’s not necessary” in Japanese, this is the word that you can use.

だいじょうぶ (Daijoubu | 大丈夫)

A: けがしていませんか? (kega shite imasen ka? )

Aren’t you hurt?

B: はい、だいじょうぶです。(hai, daijoubu desu. | 大丈夫です。)

No, I’m fine.

A: もっとコーヒーのむ?(motto koohii nomu? | もっとコーヒー飲む?)

Do you want more coffee?

B: ううん、だいじょうぶ。(uun, daijoubu. ううん、大丈夫。)

No, thanks.

“Okay” in Japanese

If you want to say “okay,” “sounds good,” or “no, thank you” in Japanese, you can use this word.

いい (Ii)

A: これでいい?(kore de ii? )

Is it okay like this?

B: うん、いいよ。 (un, iiyo. )

Yeah, it looks good.

A: べつのさいずはありますか?(betsu no saizu wa arimasu ka? | 別のサイズはありますか?)

Do you have another size?

B: ああ、やっぱりいいです。 (aa, yappari ii desu. ああ、やっぱりいいです。)

Oh, never mind.

“Sounds good” in Japanese

This is another variation similar to いい (ii), as mentioned in the previous example.

けっこう (kekkou)

A: せんせい、できました!(sensei, dekimashita! | 先生、できました!)

Professor, I did it!

B: けっこう。 (kekkou. 結構。)

Very well.

A: もういっぱいいかがですか? (mou ippai ikaga desu ka? | もう一杯いかがですか?)

How about another drink?

B: いえ、けっこうです。(ie, kekkou desu. | いえ、結構です。)

No, thank you.

Body language that means “no” in Japanese

If you don’t want to say “no” in Japanese directly, you can also express your denial and refusal using physical gestures or body language.

  • Cross arms or wrists in front of one’s chest or face
  • Hold one hand upright and wave it
  • Shake one’s head horizontally

Conclude

In conclusion, learning how to say “no” in Japanese is a basic word that can help you navigate conversations politely in Japan.

So, the next time you’re in Japan and someone offers you a unique culinary experience like trying fugu (pufferfish), will you say iie or be adventurous and say chotto muzukashii? Learning the subtleties of saying “no” in Japanese can add an interesting layer to your language journey.

If you haven’t yet, how about learning how to say “yes” in Japanese next?

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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