One of the first words you learn when learning a new language is often the word “no”.
However, even though the word itself is simple to both write and say, when it comes to Chinese, there is a lot of nuance in how it is used.
There are times when one word would be enough, but there are others when more context would be needed to clarify the exact response given.
So when should you use each form and what other words do you need to include?
Read on to find out.
Basic: Different translations for the simple “no”
1. 不 (bù)
不 is the most basic form of “no” and will serve as the starting point for most other methods of refusal.
Used on its own, it can seem abrupt and verges on the edge of being rude depending on context. It is a flat refusal of the proposition and offers the most direct and simple method to say “no”.
Wǒmen yīqǐ qù chīfàn ba.
Let’s go eat together.
As you can see, 不 is not only limited to being used as a response to questions. Statements can also be refused by using 不, although you will run into the risk of coming across abrasive.
2. 不是 / 不是的 (bùshì/ bùshì de)
When you are asked something that questions the nature of being, it may be more appropriate to answer with 不是 or 不是的 which literally means “is not”.
Tā shì bùshì nǐ de nán péngyǒu?
Is he your boyfriend?
Bùshì. Shì nán guīmì.
No. He’s my male best friend.
3. 不对 (bùduì)
不对 can be translated to mean “not correct”, so it is more suited to used in situations where you are asked to confirm if something is true or false.
Jìn fáng bùyòng tuōxié, duì bùduì?
I don’t need to take my shoes off before going into the house, right?
Bùduì. Nǐ de xié tài zàngle.
Wrong. Your shoes are too dirty.
Again, the use of 不对 is not just limited to being an answer to a question. You are also able to implement it in response to a statement.
Jīntiān shì qíngrén jié.
Today is Valentine’s Day.
Bùduì. Míngtiān cái shì.
Incorrect. Tomorrow is.
4. 不好 (bùhǎo)
Questions that ask for confirmation from the other party can often be refused by using 不好 which is a grouping of the words “no” and “good”.
You may find that questions that can use this kind of response often end with the phrase “好不好?” which simply asks “okay?”.
Rúguǒ tài guìle, wǒmen jiù bú mǎile. Hǎobù hǎo?
If it’s too expensive, let’s not buy it. Okay?
Bù hǎo. Wǒ jīntiān bìxū mǎi.
No. I have to buy it today.
5. 不要 (bùyào)
Similar to the pattern explored above, the addition of the character 要, meaning “to want”, can be translated by affixing the word “not” in front.
So if something is offered and you do not want it, then that would be a perfect time to use 不要.
Zuìhòu yīkuài dàngāo nǐ yào ma?
Do you want the last piece of cake?
Bùyào. Nǐ chīle ba.
No, I don’t want it. You eat it.
6. 不会 (bùhuì)
You can see where this is going now.
会 means “to be able” and so when using it to say “no”, you will be letting the other party know that you are “not able” to do something.
Tā huì duì wǒ shīwàng ma?
Will you be disappointed in me?
Bù huì, nǐ yǐjīng zuò dé hěn hǎole.
No, you have already done really well.
Míngtiān gēn wǒmen yīqǐ tī zúqiú ba.
Come play soccer with us tomorrow.
Bù huì. Wǒ zhǐ huì dǎ lánqiú.
No. I only know how to play basketball.
7. 不可以/不能/不行 (bù kěyǐ/bùnéng/bùxíng)
If you wish to express if something is permitted or not, it may be a good choice to use one of these phrases. 不可以/不能/不行 can be literally translated as “no can”.
One thing to note is that although this response can be used when you feel that your own limitations are the deciding factor, they are also applicable if a third party is the one restricting you.
Chī wán fàn wǒ qù wán er yóuxì jī ba?
Let’s play video games after eating.
Bùxíng. Wǒ bà bù ràng.
No. My dad doesn’t let me.
8. 不 + verb (bù + verb)
An easy way to find the right way to say “no” in any context is to simply utilize the verb in the question. So if someone wants you to go somewhere, the easy way to answer is to “not go”.
Additionally, it helps add context to your response. You are not simply telling someone “no” but also explain what exactly you are saying “no” to.
Xiàkèle qù dǎqiú ma?
Do you want to play ball after class?
Bù qù, wǒ yǒudiǎn lèi le.
No, I’m a bit tired.
9. 不 + verb + 了 (bù + verb + le)
了 is often seen behind a verb to indicate something that has happened in the past.
However, when used with 不 + verb it suggests that the verb no longer happens. For example, you may have swam every week, but now you no longer swim.
Míngtiān hái qù dòngwùyuán ma?
Are you going to the zoo tomorrow?
Bù qùle. Míngtiān xià dàyǔ.
I’m no longer going. There’s heavy rain tomorrow.
10. 没/没有 + verb (méi/méiyǒu + verb)
The word 没 implies that something is a lack of something. When paired with a verb, it will suggest that the action questioned is missing.
This type of response is often used to answer questions that are asking about something in the past.
Zuótiān tī qiúle ma?
Did you play soccer yesterday?
Méi tī. Tài lèile.
No. I was too tired.
11. 没/没有 + noun (méi/méiyǒu + noun)
Similarly, when 没 is paired with a noun, it will mean that the noun used is the missing element. Unlike when used with a verb, this phrasing can be applicable for all tenses.
Wǒmen wǎnshàng zuò fàn ma?
Are we cooking tonight?
Méi cài. Háishì diǎn wàimài ba.
No vegetables. Let’s order takeout.
12. 还 + 没/没有 (hái + méi/méiyǒu)
Another wrinkle can be added with the inclusion of 还 at the beginning. It changes the meaning to “not yet”.
It implies that either the process will be completed in the future, but does not specify when.
Zuòyè zuò wán le ma?
Have you finished your homework?
Other important phrases
13. 不可能 (bù kěnéng)
Meaning “impossible”, 不可能 can be used as a standalone exclamation in addition to being in a middle of a sentence.
Wǒ de chéngjī bǐ nǐ hǎo.
My grades are better than yours.
14. 没门儿 (méimén’r)
A slang that hails from the capital, Beijing, 没门儿 literally means “no door” with a Beijinger pronunciation. It means that something has been denied because there is “no door with which to enter”.
Wǒ néng bùnéng yòng yīxià nǐ de shǒujī?
Can I use your phone?
15. 错 (cuò)
错 means “wrong” and so can be used to inform the other party that they are incorrect.
Yī jiā yī děngyú sān.
One plus one equals three.
Cuò. Děngyú yī.
Wrong. It equals one.
Yòu cuòle. Qíshí děngyú èr.
Wrong again. It actually equals two.
16. 滚 (gǔn)
Perhaps a peculiar phrase when you know that 滚 means “to roll”. However, when you tell someone to “roll” it normally implies “away from here” and so you are in fact telling them to “go away” or “shut up”.
Nǐ de mèimei hǎo piàoliang a.
Your younger sister is beautiful.
17. 你想得美 (nǐ xiǎng dé měi)
When translated directly, 你想得美 can sound fairly poetic. It means “You are thinking beautifully”, but in actual fact means that “you are dreaming” and implies that the suggested topic will never happen.
Rúguǒ wǒ kǎo jìn dàxué, kěndìng hěnduō nǚshēng huì zhuī wǒ.
If I get into university, there will definitely be many girls chasing after me.
Nǐ xiǎng dé měi. Yǒu yīgè jiù bùcuòle.
Keep dreaming. You’ll be lucky to get one.
18. 你想都别想 (nǐ xiǎng dōu bié xiǎng)
Translated as “don’t even think about it”, this phrase means exactly what you think it does and can be used in situations you would use the English version in.
Wǒ zài chī yī wǎn fàn yīnggāi méiyǒu wèntí ba?
If I have one more bowl of rice, there won’t be a problem, right?
Nǐ xiǎng dōu bié xiǎng. Jiǎn bù jiǎnféi le?
Don’t even think about it. Are you trying to lose weight or not?
19. 恐怕不行 (kǒngpà bùxíng)
恐怕 means “afraid”. 不行 means “not able”.
Together, they mean “afraid not/can’t”.
Wǎnfàn hòu, wǒmen qù kàn diànyǐng ba?
After dinner, shall we watch a film?
Kǒngpà bùxíng. Wǒ míngtiān dé zǎoqǐ.
I’m afraid I can’t. I have to wake up early tomorrow.
20. 算了吧/再说吧 (suànle ba/zàishuō ba)
算了吧 is a response that means “forget it” while 再说吧 can be literally translated as “speak later”. Despite seeming different, they both express the desire to ignore the current problem and perhaps leave it for sometime in the future.
Zàilái yīcì. Wǒmen kěndìng néng chénggōng de.
Let’s try again. We can definitely succeed.
Suànle ba. Dōu yǐjīng shí diǎn le
Forget it. It’s already 10 o’clock.
21. 我不太清楚 (wǒ bù tài qīngchǔ)/我不知道（wǒ bù zhīdào）
Meaning “I am not too clear” or “I don‘’t know”, this phrase can be used when more clarification is needed for an answer to be given, which is why a question often follows.
Qǐngwèn dì wǔ dàdào zěnme zǒu?
How do I get to Fifth Avenue?
Duìbùqǐ wǒ bù zhīdào (wǒ bù tài qīngchǔ)
Sorry, I don’t know (I’m not too clear).
Bonus: When saying no is a necessary courtesy – the super polite way to decline
22. 使不得 (shǐ bu dé)
使不得 is a phrase that is often used when addressing someone of higher status than yourself. It implies that the action or words undertaken by the other party is not befitting of their status and you are perhaps not worthy of such treatment.
Wǒ bù xiǎoxīn cǎi dào nǐ de xiéle. Wǒ bāng nǐ cā cā.
I accidentally stepped on your shoes. Let me help you wipe them.
Lǎobǎn, shǐ bu dé, shǐ bu dé.
Boss, please, you don’t need to.
23. 不用了，谢谢 (bùyòngle, xièxiè)
不用了 was covered above (means “no need”) but with the inclusion of 谢谢 (“thank you”), it adds an element of politeness and gratitude that sets it apart.
Hái yào bùyào hè yībēi?
Do you want another glass?
No need, thank you.
24. 真的不用 (zhēn de bùyòng)
If 不用了，谢谢 didn’t do the trick and the other party still insists, you can always emphasize that you “truly don’t need” it.
Quèdìng ma? Bù máfan.
Are you sure? It’s no bother.
Zhēn de bùyòng.
I truly don’t need it.
So there you have it, 24 ways to say no in Chinese.
Which ones do you use the most and are there any that we have missed?