The Japanese are known for their politeness, but because of their polite nature, it can be hard to say no in a straightforward way. That’s why there are many ways to say no in Japanese!
There are words for declining invitations, offers, and even disagreeing with someone else’s ideas or opinions. Each of them has different levels of formality depending on the situation or the person you are speaking to.
You will notice that words for “no” are softened through adding explanations or apologies, such as sumimasen (すみません), daijoubu (大丈夫 / だいじょうぶ), and many more!
To learn how to say no in Japanese, you can try out some of the examples below!
While iie is the first Japanese word for no that is taught to us, using it might come off as cold or rude. You can use other words to soften your refusal instead of sticking with iie.
Iie is useful when correcting someone. For example:
“Nihonjin desu ka?” (Are you Japanese? / 日本人ですか / にほんじん です か)
“Iie, igirisu jin desu.” (No, I’m British / いいえ、イギリス人です).
Another way to soften iie, especially among friends and family, is to use iya (いや) instead.
Uun is an utterance, rather than a word. This is used mostly in casual settings, like among family and friends. You can check its intonation and some examples here! Its counterpart is un (うん), meaning yes.
When using this in written form, it’s spelled ううん, but when spoken, it just sounds like you’re extending an “n” sound while the “u” is silent. Uun is also more commonly used by children and women.
I don’t need it / No thank you
Iranai can be used among friends. The word iranai comes from iru (要る / いる) meaning “to be needed”. Transforming iru into its -nai form makes the verb negative, so it becomes “do not need”.
No thank you
This is a Japanese phrase for no or refusal in formal settings. It can be used with service staff such as at the supermarket check-out. However, kekkou desu is also seen as cold or rude in a normal conversation!
A warmer, more common way to refuse is the next word, daijoubu desu.
Iie / Iya, daijoubu desu
いいえ / いや、大丈夫です
I’m fine, thank you
One of the most common ways to say no in Japanese is the use of daijoubu desu. In this context, this phrase can be used to refuse (or accept) offers.
It’s common to add iie or iya at the beginning to make it clear that you’re refusing, and hai when accepting. But when someone omits either, you can observe their body language to tell if they are saying yes or no.
Dekinai is used when expressing regret that you cannot fulfill someone’s request. This is usually followed by an explanation. This expression is common among friends or colleagues.
However, to make this phrase more formal, you can use it in its negative polite form: dekimasen (出来ません / できません)!
This is another straightforward way to say no in Japanese. Muri is a very strong expression, however.
Among friends, you can use muri in a sarcastic way. For example, a friend may predict that you won the lottery. You can use muri to say that the situation is impossible.
Dame is more commonly used in unfortunate situations, or when you’re stopping someone from doing an action. For example, when a child is about to make a mess in the house, their parents can say “Dame!” to stop them.
This is usually written in katakana (ダメ) and is one of the words you usually hear in anime. This phrase is informal, and when not used carefully, it may come off as rude!
Sou wa omowanai
I don’t think so
This phrase is used to refuse somebody’s ideas rather than offers. Picture this: your friend thinks that the movie you just watched together was terrible. You can say sou wa omowanai to reject their idea.
The word omowanai (思わない / おもわない) comes from the verb omou (思う / おもう), which means “to think”. Omowanai is the short negative form of this verb.
It’s not true
While its literal translation means “to differ (from)”, chigau can also be used to correct someone when they are wrong.
This is a common way to say no in either casual or formal situations but to make it formal, you can use the masu form, chigaimasu (違います / ちがいます).
(It’s) a little…
Chotto is one of the most commonly used ways to decline an offer. You might hear people use this with an adjective to explain their reason or just simply trail off.
A little busy = Chotto isogashii (ちょっと忙しい / ちょっと いそがしい)
A little difficult = Chotto muzukashii (ちょっと難しい / ちょっと むずかしい）
However, when someone uses “Sorry, it’s a little…” or sumimasen, chotto… (すみません、ちょっと), it’s usually a sign that they are declining. This is said to save face and the other person’s ego by avoiding outright declining them!
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Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.