How to Say "No" in Chinese?

In Mandarin Chinese, saying “no” isn’t just about a simple word; it’s about the context, the tone, and the relationship between the speakers. Let’s explore the various ways to say “no” in Chinese and discuss when to use each to best fit the social situation.

1. 不 (bù) and 没 (méi): These are your go-to words for negation. 不 (bù) is used generally to negate the present and future, while 没 (méi) is used to deny past actions. For example, 不要 (bù yào) means “do not want,” and 没有 (méi yǒu) means “do not have” or “did not.”

2. 不是 (bù shì): This literally translates to “is not” and is often used to correct a mistaken assumption or statement. If someone asks if you are a student and you are not, you might reply, 不是 (bù shì).

3. 不可以 (bù kěyǐ): Translating to “cannot,” this phrase is used when something is not permissible or possible. It’s a straightforward way to decline a request or suggest that an action is not allowed.

4. 不用 (bù yòng): This means “no need” and is a polite way to decline something that someone offers to do for you. It’s softer than a direct “no” and is commonly used in service-oriented interactions.

5. 没关系 (méi guānxi): Often used to mean “it doesn’t matter,” this can be a subtle way to decline an offer or suggest that something is not necessary.

Each of these expressions carries its nuances and can convey a range of emotions and levels of politeness. Choosing the right one depends on the context and your relationship with the person you’re speaking to.

  • Are there other expressions for “no” that you’ve encountered in your studies or travels?
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不要 is another one similar to 不用, as both mean “no need”.

But I believe 不要 sounds a bit more harsh and I have been advised to use 不用 instead, for example when asked if I need a receipt, a bag etc

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I always like 不可能 which takes it a step further - meaning impossible.

Often heard this in C-Drama’s where someone really does not want to do something! :sweat_smile:

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I often get confused between bu and mei :face_with_spiral_eyes:

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Honestly, I think we’ve all had this struggle.

We made a grammar bank article on this exact point @Ha_Nguyen - it should be useful :wink:

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Another one I’ve heard a lot is 不行 (Bùxíng) which, context-dependent, basically means not ok/not allowed/not possible, but seems pretty flexible in its usage

Similar to me getting confused between “You” and “Yao”