The Art of Saying No: How to Say No In 49 Different Languages

The Art of Saying No: How to Say No In 49 Different Languages

One of the most commonly used words in the world consists of one syllable and only two letters. This is the English word “no”.

For such a short and concise word, “no” has a lot of uses. The most common use of “no” is to indicate disagreement with something someone else has said. 

For example, if someone says that it is time to eat, you can say “no”.

It can also be used to indicate that someone is wrong about something or to answer a question about your state of being.

For example, if someone says that you are hungry and you are not, you can say “no.” 

So you see “no” is a very handy phrase to know. It answers so much while allowing you to say so little.

Many other countries around the world have their own word for “no” and it’s one of the first words that language learners are taught. In this post, we’re going to look at how to say “no” in different languages across the globe. 

Saying “No” in Asian languages

1. Mandarin Chinese

Word/Phrase: bù shi, bù duì, méi yǒu.

There is no literal translation of the word “no” in Mandarin Chinese, but the phrases above are common ways you can reply in the negative to questions.

“Bù” is basically translated to “not” and “bù shi” can be understood as “to not be”, so if you are asked a question about yourself, like are you hungry, you can say no this way.

“Bù duì” is understood as “wrong”, so if someone says you are American and you're actually English, say “bù duì, English.”

“Méi yǒu” means “I don’t have”, so is someone asks you if you have a hotel room, you can say no with this phrase. It can also be used to answer a question about if you’ve done something, so if you haven’t had lunch, say “méi yǒu”.

2. Cantonese

Word/Phrase: M hěi

Cantonese is the second most common Chinese language in the world after Mandarin. Unlike Mandarin, Cantonese has a word that basically translates and is used for “no” and this is it.

3. Hindi

Word/Phrase: Nahi

Cows are traditionally sacred in India; so many Indian’s don’t eat beef.  So, if you are a vegetarian, you’ll find a lot of yummy foods that are beef free. If you want to be sure, however, you can ask and if they say “nahi'', you know you are in the clear.

4. Bengali

Word/Phrase: Na

While Hindi is the third most common language in the world, it’s only one of 22 major languages spoken in India. The second most common Indian language in the world is Bengali and “na” is how you say “no”

5. Nepali

Word/Phrase: Hō'īna

Not many people would dream of saying “no” to seeing the Himalayas. But if you are in Nepal, and don’t feel up to joining a hiking trip, say “hō'īna” and just enjoy the view from a distance.

6. Indonesian

Word/Phrase: Tidak

This simple word can be used to disagree with an idea in Indonesia.

7. Malaysian

Tidak

It works in Malaysian too.

8. Japanese 

Word/Phrase: i-ie

This is the exact translation of “no” in Japanese, but Japanese are not really comfortable with giving negative answers. There are different phrases that mean “no” in Japan and these often have something to do with who you are replying to with “no”.

9. Korean

Word/Phrase: A-ni, A-ni-yo

Koreans place great importance on “politeness” based on your standing with the person you are talking to. There are “casual” phrases that you use around friends or in informal situations and there are “formal” phrases you use around elders or a business setting.

“A-ni-yo” is considered more formal and polite. While “a-ni” is fine among friends or in a casual setting.

10. Vietnamese

Word/Phrase: Không

This is how you can say “no” in Vietnamese. 

11. Thai 

Word/Phrase: Mai Chai

This is how you can say no in Thailand. Fun fact, if you want to say yes, just drop the “mai”.

12. Burmese

Word/Phrase: Ma ha bu

The Burmese language is the native language of Burma, now known as Myanmar.

13. Filipino

Word/Phrase: Hindi

This is the way that you can reject an offer or convey disagreement with an idea if you are speaking to a Filipino.

If “hindi” sounds blunt, you can try making it a bit more polite by adding “ho” or “po”. “Po” is especially important if you are talking to an elder or superior. So, “hindi ho/po”.

14. Armenian

Word/Phrase: Votch

There are around 6.7 million native speakers of Armenian in the world, and this is how they reply in the negative. While the majority live in Armenia, you can also find Armenian speakers in Russia, Georgia, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iraq, France, Bulgaria, and in the United States.

15. Azerbaijani

Word/Phrase: Yox

As we mentioned, there are Armenian speakers in Azerbaijani, but you’re more likely to hear “yox” if there is no room in a hostel here.

Saying “No” in Middle Eastern Languages

16. Standard Arabic

Word/Phrase: Laa

Arabic is the sixth most common language in the world and spoken in about 25 countries. If you are traveling or doing business in the Middle East, say “laa” if the answer is no.

17. Persian

Word/Phrase: Na

Persian, also known as Farsi, is the official language in Iran as well as Afghanistan and Tajikistan. 

18. Hebrew 

Word/Phrase: Lo

If you are in Israel or another place in the Middle East with plenty of Hebrew speakers, if they answer “lo” than the answer is “no,”

Saying “No” in European languages

19. French

Word/Phrase: Non

French is not just the language of love, but also the fifth most common language in the world. This simple phrase is how you can decline an invitation or express disagreement with a statement.

20. Portuguese

Word/Phrase: Não

Portuguese is the sixth most common language in the world, spoken by around 220 million people. Portugal isn’t the only place you can get your point across by saying “não” though, Portuguese is commonly understood in Brazil as well as Mozambique, Principe, Cape Verde, and Angola Guinea-Bissau.

21. German

Word/Phrase: Nien

German is an official language of the European Union, so even if you are not in Germany but are traveling through the EU saying “nien” will indicate that you don’t agree with something.

22. Russian

Word/Phrase: nyet

If you want to turn down that third shot of vodka, you can say “nyet.” Russian is the eight most spoken language in the world.

23. Norwegian 

Word/Phrase: Nei

If you need to just say “no” in Norwegian, you just need to say “nei”.

24. Swedish

Word/Phrase: Nej

In Sweden, “nej” means “no”.

25. Dutch 

Word/Phrase: Nee

If you are traveling in the Netherlands, you might hear people saying “nee”. This is how “no” is said in Dutch.

26. Danish

Word/Phrase: Nej

Native speakers of Danish use this simple word when they want to tell others “no”.

27. Polish

Word/Phrase: Nie

To say n-o while you are in Poland requires you to say this three letter word.

28. Bulgarian

Word/Phrase: Ne

Verbally, Bulgarian’s say “ne” when they mean “no”. Non-verbally, however, they nod their head. Nodding for “no” isn’t so common in other parts of the world, so it might be confusing at first. Just make sure you listen for the “ne” then.

29. Serbian

Word/Phrase: Ne

If you need to say “no” to something in Serbian, you simply say “ne”.

30. Lithuanian

Word/Phrase: Ne

“Ne” is also used in Lithuania if you mean “no.”

31. Hungarian

Word/Phrase: Nem

When in Hungary, if someone asks if you feel hungry and you are not, you can say “nem”.

32. Finnish 

Word/Phrase: Ei

The word for “no” in Finnish has two letters as well.

33. Czech

Word/Phrase: Ne

Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic and is spoken by around 10 million people.

34. Greek 

Word/Phrase: Ochi

You can use this word to say “no” if you are traveling in Greece.

35. Basque

Word/Phrase: Ez

Basque is the oldest language in Europe that is still in use today. It was developed and is still spoken in Basque Country which is part of northern Spain and southern France.

36. Icelandic

Word/Phrase: Nei

Most Icelandic speakers still live in Iceland, but there is a sizable population of them in Denmark as well.

37. Bosnian

Word/Phrase: Ne

This is how you can decline an invitation in Bosnia.

38. Romanian

Word/Phrase: Nu

If you need to express disagreement with an idea in Romania, this is what you can say.

39. Croatian 

Word/Phrase: Ne

Croatian is an official language of the European Union. It is principally used in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

40. Georgian

Word/Phrase: Ara

This is the official language of Georgia – and how you can say “no” in Georgian.

41. Slovak

Word/Phrase: Nie

This is how you can say “no” in Slovakia.Slovak is also spoken in Hungary and Carpathian Ruthenia.

42. Estonian

Word/Phrase: Ei

If you are trying to tell someone you are not interested in what they are selling is Estonia, you can always say “ei”.

43. Albanian

Word/Phrase: Jo

If you are thinking of traveling to Albania, remember that “jo” is “no” and “po” is “yes”.

Saying “No” in African languages

44. Swahili

Word/Phrase: Hapana

Swahili is one of the most commonly spoken African languages and “hapana” is how native speakers of Swahili say no.

45. Sesotho

Word/Phrase: Tjhee

Sesotho is a language that is spoken in Lesotho mostly, but you can also find a lot of native speakers in South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

46. Hausa

Word/Phrase: A’a

Hausa is mostly spoken in Nigeria. If you are planning to go, you should know how to say “no”.

47. Xhosa

Word/Phrase: Hayi

Xhosa has about 8.2 million who consider it their first language and 11 million people who call it their second language. It’s mostly spoken in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

48. Afrikaans

Word/Phrase: Nee

If you want to go to South Africa, it might be wise to have a few words of Afrikaans. This language evolved from a mixture of the Bantu and Khoisan languages plus Dutch and English. It’s also commonly understood in Swaziland, Botswana, and Namibia. 

49. Zulu

Word/Phrase: Cha

This is the first language of the Zulu people, a Bantu ethnic group in South Africa. They are the largest ethnic group in South Africa. It is an official language of South Africa and 24% of South Africans count Zulu as their first language. 

Conclusion

There are as many different ways to say “no” in the world as there are different languages in the world. Ways to say “no” and “yes” in other languages are a basic part of any language learning plan.

In some ways learning to say “no” is simple, I mean, look at that list.

It’s usually all only two or three letter words. Easy to memorize and simple to pronounce.

However, knowing how to say “no” in another language is not the same as knowing how to properly use the word for “no.”

Depending on the culture of the speaker, there may be nuances to body language that can affect how people perceive your “no.” As saying “no” often means that you are rejecting their idea or an offer that they are making you, it can be easy to come off as rude or insulting.

If you work with a native language tutor, the proper way to say “no”, to reject something or someone without offending them is something that they can help you with. They can help you figure out the gracious and respectful way to say “no”, no matter what the circumstance.

How to say no in Bengali?

Na

How to say no in Thai?

Mai Chai

How to say no in Bulgarian?

Ne

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