How can I say “No” in Japanese ?

When you travel to Japan and are asked something, sometimes you would need to say “No”. You can translate “No” into “Iie/いいえ” in Japanese normally, but actually Japanese people don’t often use “Iie/いいえ”. There are many other ways to say “No” in Japanese. I will introduce them.

1. Polite expressions

When you travel to Japan and say “No” in Japanese, it’s better you use the following polite expressions.

(1) Daijyobudesu/大丈夫です

When I say “No” to someone whom I don’t know or I’m not close with or elderly people, I very often use “Daijyobudesu”/「大丈夫です」. You can say it when you decline an invitation and so on. It’s a very mild expression, so you wouldn’t make people feel uncomfortable. If you are checked by a question and say it, that would be unnatural.

Ex) At a restaurant

A:Would you like something to drink ?/何か飲み物はいかがですか?

B:大丈夫です。

(2) Yameteokimasu/やめておきます

This is a polite expression and many Japanese people say it when they decline an invitation same as “Daijyobudesu”/「大丈夫です」. This expression is also comparatively soft, so there is no problem even if you say it to someone whom you don’t know or you aren’t close with.

Ex)

A:Would you like to go to a bar with me ?/一緒にバーへ行きませんか?

B:やめておきます。

(3) Shiteimasen/していません、Dekimasen/できません

Japanese people also use them very often. If you say them and decline an invitation, that would be unnatural. When simply you are checked if you do something or can do by a question and say “No”, you can say them as an answer. Normally Japanese people put “Ie”/「いえ」before them. I mean commonly they say “Ie, shiteimasen”/「いえ、していません」or “Ie, dekimasen”/「いえ、できません」. You wouldn’t give people an uncomfortable impression even if you say them to someone whom you don’t know.

Ex)

A:Do you learn Japanese in the weekend ?/週末に日本語を勉強していますか?

B:いえ、していません。

Ex)

A:Can you understand Japanese ?/日本語を理解できますか?

B:いえ、できません。

(4) Tigaimasu/違います

This is also used often. When you are asked if something is correct and say “No”, you can use “Tigaimasu”/「違います」. You might make people feel a little harsh depending on the way of saying, so you should be careful about how to say.

Ex) At a restaurant

A:Did you order this Ramen ?/このラーメンを注文しましたか?

B:違います。

(5) Muridesu/無理です

When you reject an invitation or are asked if you can do something and say “No”, you can say it. You can give people a little harsh impression, so you should try not to say it to someone whom you don’t know or elderly people. I sometimes say “Muri”/「無理」 to my family, but I try to keep in mind to say it in a soft way.

Ex)

A:Would you like to go to Asakusa together tomorrow ?/明日一緒に浅草へ行きませんか?

B:無理です。

2. Formal expressions

Normally we use the following formal expressions in the business situation, but you can say some of them in daily conversation depending on the situation.

(1) Kibishiidesu/厳しいです

This is a little indirect expression and I often use it when I reject an invitation and so on. If you say it in daily conversation, you would give people a little rigidly formal impression. And if you travel to Japan and say it to someone whom you don’t know, that would be unnatural. Japanese often say it for business.

Ex)

A:Is it convenient for you for the next meeting tomorrow at 15:00 ?/次の打合せは明日の15時で都合宜しいですか?

B:厳しいです。

(2) Enryoshiteokimasu/遠慮しておきます

This word has a very polite and soft impression and I sometimes use it. When you reject an invitation or recommendation, you can say it. Even if you travel to Japan and say it to someone whom you don’t know, that wouldn’t be unnatural. Of course you can say it in the business situation and I often say it then.

Ex)

A:Do you want to eat more dishes ?/もっと料理を食べたいですか?

B:遠慮しておきます。

3. Casual expressions

You can say the following words to close friends or family. But you should be careful when you use them because some of them can give people an impolite impression depending on the situation.

(1) Uun/ううん

Japanese very often use this expression. You can say it in so various situations such as when you are asked if you want to do something and say “No”. This word would give people a comparatively mild impression.

Ex)

A:Is tomorrow your day off ?/明日は休み?

B:ううん。

(2) Iya/いや、Ie/いえ

I think you can say it in almost all situations when you say “No” in English. But when you say only “Iya”/「いや」or “Ie”/「いえ」, you can give people a cold or impolite impression. Especially when you say only “Iya”/「いや」, people who are said it can feel you are colder or ruder. So you should try not to say only them. Normally we say something after them as follows. If you use the following expressions, there would be no problem.

Ex)

A:Do you want to eat sushi tomorrow ?/明日、寿司を食べたい?

B:No, I don’t want to do that./いや、やめとこうかな。

Ex)

A:Would you like to go to our University together ?/大学に一緒に行きませんか?

B:No, I wouldn’t like to do that./いえ、遠慮しておきます。

(3) Dame/だめ

When you are asked for some permissions and say “No”, you can say it. When you say only “Dame”/「だめ」to someone whom you don’t know, you would make people feel uncomfortable and that would be impolite. But I say it to my daughter who is 4 years old. In this case there is no problem, but when you travel to Japan you should try not to use it.

Ex)

A:Can I eat more sweets ?/もっとお菓子食べていい?

B:だめ。

4. Summary

There are many ways of saying “No” depending on the situation. When you travel to Japan, it’s better you say “Daijyobudesu”/「大丈夫です」, “Shiteimasen”/「していません」,”Dekimasen”/「できません」or “Tigaimasu”/「違います」depending on the situation.

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