When you live in Japan, you’ll encounter times when you’d like to say “no.”
There are many phrases you can use, which change according to the situation you find yourself in. Knowing these will help to make life easier. So let’s check out all of the different ways to say no in Japanese!
1. いいえ (Iie) / いえ(Ie)
You might see this word in your textbook often when you first decide to study Japanese. Iie is the polite form of “no.” It’s not commonly used in everyday life, as it sounds more polite and formal.
Actually, it’s not commonly used even in more formal situations like talking with your boss. So what do most Japanese people say? The answer is いえ (ie).
There is little difference between the two, but ie is used much more than iie. This is due mainly to a person’s preference, but iie does sound stiff when used in everyday conversations. Of course, some people use iie, but it’s more common to use ie.
(Onegai shiteoita purojekuto wa owarimashita ka?)
Did you finish the project like I asked?
(Ie, mada owattemasen)
No, I haven’t finished it yet.
(Ohiru gohan wa tabemashita ka?)
Did you have lunch?
(Iie, mada tabetemasen)
No, I haven’t.
*Note: While iie is not commonly used to say a direct “no” in Japanese, it is often used to respond to someone thanking you. This gives it a meaning of “No, not at all.”
Example Iie: Not at All
(Purezento arigatou. Hontou ni yasashii ne.)
Thank you for the present, that’s so sweet of you!
Not at all!
There’s a humble Japanese way of thinking behind this. Using iie as a reply to someone thanking you implies, “I didn’t do anything you could thank me for, so please don’t thank me.”
Saying the shorter “ie” is also a typical response when someone thanks you but is often said two times in a row like this; いえいえ (ie ie).
You could also use the more casual いやいや(iya iya).
2. だいじょうぶ (Daijoubu)
Daijoubu is another word you can use to say no. This might be the most frequently-used way to say no in Japanese. You can use it with people of all ages. However, don’t forget to add “desu” after daijoubu when you talk to older people or people you aren’t close to.
(Dinaa no ato ni dezaato mo gochuumon nasaimasu ka?)
Did you want some dessert after your dinner?
(A, daijoubu desu.)
Oh, no, thank you.
*Note: Daijoubu can also be used to ask, “Are you okay?”
Example: Are You Okay?
Situation: You notice that your co-worker looks a little sick.
Are you okay?
Example: I’m Fine.
Daijoubu can also be used when you want to say, “I am fine.” Your co-worker could also use the same word to say they are okay.
Are you okay?
Yes, I’m fine.
If your co-worker wasn’t okay, they would respond with daijoubu ja nai, which is the negative form. Because daijoubu can mean either yes or no, depending on the context, it might be a bit confusing. Check out our guide to learning daijoubu for more information on how to use it naturally.
3. いや (Iya)
Iya represents disagreement and unpleasant emotion. When you see something you don’t like or someone has done something you don’t like, you can use this phrase. It can be used towards both things and actions, but it’s more commonly used when you’re experiencing something you don’t like.
Iya is more feminine in Japanese, so if you’re a guy, you may be inclined to use やだ (yada), which means the same as iya or やめろよ (yamero yo = stop that)
Situation: You are on the ice skating rink with your friend. Your friend is a good skater and you are not. Your friend suddenly pushed you and you’d say いや！ This is Possibly followed by やめてよ! (yamete yo = female version of yamero yo, meaning to “stop that”).
(Omoshiroi horaa eiga yatterun dakedo, mini ikanai?)
There is this interesting horror movie playing. Would you like to go see it?
(Kowai kara horaa eiga wa iya dayo.)
I don’t want to, because horror movies are too scary.
(Omae daibu futotta na.)
You’ve gained so much weight, haven’t you?
(Hito no taikei no koto iu no yamero.)
Stop talking about other people’s figures.
4. だめ/だめです (Dame/Dame Desu)
Dame also indicates disagreement and often carries the meaning, “You can’t do that.” Dame is commonly used when talking to your pets or children.
Situation 1: Your child is throwing his toys around the house. You could say:
You can’t do that!
Situation 2: Your pet dog Snoopy tries to escape from your house.
(Dame! Snoopy, modotte oide!)
No! Come back, Snoopy!
If you want to make this expression more polite, you can add the word desu to it.
Situation 3 (With Desu): You are teaching English in class, but some of the students are eating snacks.
(Okashi o tabete wa dame desu!)
No eating snacks in class!
5. ちがう/ちがいます (Chigau/Chigaimasu)
違う (chigau) means “No, that’s not right.” It’s used when you disagree with someone’s opinion/statement. As you might have already guessed, “chigaimasu” is the polite version of chigau.
Let’s take a look at how to use these words.
(A, ima kanada wa yonaka no 12:00 dayo. Keiko ni otanjyoubi omedetoutte iou!)
Oh, it’s 12:00 am in Canada now. Let’s wish Keiko a happy birthday!
(Chigau yo. Mada yoru no 10:00 dakara ato 2 jikan matanakucha.)
It’s still 10:00 pm there, so we have to wait two more hours.”
Japan is a high-context culture where people prefer implicit communication between people, so some might think chigau is a strong word to tell someone no. If you like, you can soften it, particularly when mentioning your opinion, by adding chotto (a little) in front of the word, like this:
- Chotto chigau/chotto chigaimasu.
Alternatively, you can add “I think” 思います (omoimasu) to stress that something is your personal opinion.
(Chigau to omoimasu.)
I think that’s wrong.
You can even combine the two to make your sentence even more humble.
(Chotto chigau to omoimasu)
Literally meaning “I think it is a little wrong.”
6. Chotto: Politely Refusing Someone
Chotto is a useful word you can use when you want to decline someone’s invitation. It allows you to imply that you have something to do and can’t go.
If you’re invited by your manager or a superior, you can use 遠慮する(enryo suru).
It means “to decline/refrain.”
(Konya partii o surunda. Kimi mo oide yo.)
We’re having a party tonight, you should come!
You: すみません、明日の朝早いので、ちょっと遠慮します/しておきます。(Sumimasen, ashita no asa hayai node chotto enryo shi masu/shite okimasu)
I’m sorry, I would love to, but I can’t. I have to get up early tomorrow morning
*Note: You can add konkai wa before chotto, which means “this time,” if you wish to indicate that you can’t go this time, but would like to be invited again in the future.
(Konkai wa chotto enryo shite okimasu.)
I’ll have to pass this time.
Only using chotto to decline the offer isn’t quite enough in terms of an explanation, so it might be better to add something after it.
- ちょっと行けません。Chotto ikemasen. – I can’t go.
- ちょっと忙しい。Chotto isogashii. – I’m a little busy.
- ちょっと用事があります。Chotto youji ga arimasu. – I have something I need to take care of.
- ちょっと難しい。Chotto muzukashii. – It’s a little difficult for me to make it.
- ちょっと分からない。Chotto wakaranai. – I don’t know if I can make it.
7. 結構です(Kekkou Desu)
Kekkou desu is a polite way to say no, that has a nuance of “No, thank you. I’m fine.” Kekkou desu can be used when you want to be polite, but be firm in your decision to say no.
However, kekkou desu is more tricky that it seems. Just like daijoubu, it can mean “No, thank you” or “That’s fine.” Even though it’s a polite way to say no, it shouldn’t be used to someone who is older or your boss. You can often hear it being used in casual/business situations like in the examples below.
Situation: You go to a real estate agency to sign a lease for your new apt. They ask for your driver’s license as your ID, but you only have your passport since you are new to Japan.
(Pasupooto shika nain desu kedo.)
I only have my passport.
Real Estate Agent: はい、パスポートで結構ですよ。
(Hai, pasupooto de kekkou desu yo.)
Yes, the passport is fine.
(Koohii no okawari ikaga desu ka?)
Would you like some more coffee?
No thank you.
8. やめとく/やめときます (Yametoku/Yametokimasu)
These phrases derive from やめておく(yameteoku). When yamete oku is often shortened to yametoku or yametokimasu when speaking. It stresses the speaker’s desire to say no.
(Nee, nomi ni ikou!)
Come on, let’s go for drinks!
(Chotto yametoku wa. Kinou nomisugite hidoi futsukayoi na no.)
I had so much alcohol last night, and I have a terrible hangover.
Yametoku is used when a person wants to emphasize that they don’t want to go somewhere rather than being unable to go somewhere. This message is very clear. This is a great phrase to use when you feel the need to make your desire not to do something or go somewhere known to the listener.
I hope this article has helped you learn how to say no in Japanese. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or opinions!