Different Ways To Say ‘No’ in Chinese


Probably the first thing you will learn in Mandarin classes in Singapore is how to say “no” in Chinese. Believe it or not, there’s no direct way to say “no” or, for that matter, “yes” in Mandarin. There are five or more ways to say “no” in Chinese. Each one of them has a slightly different meaning, and each is used in different situations and places.

In Chinese, the context of a conversation decides, more than anything else, how you should say “no” in Chinese. The common structure to convey a negative answer in Mandarin is a negation marker + verb.

Let’s understand it further with the following example. If you have to refuse in English to a yes-no question such as “Do you want coffee?” you will reply either “No” or “No, I don’t.” in a polite way. On the other hand, in Mandarin Chinese, you will say something like “我不要喝 “or Wǒ bùyào hē, which translates to “I don’t drink.”

Here is a brief overview of 7 common negations in Mandarin Chinese.

不 | bù | no

不 | bù | no

This is the most common way to say “no” in Chinese. This word is something that people who are learning simplified or traditional Chinese in Singapore learn on the first day of their class. This negation is rarely if ever, used alone. It is nearly always used as a negative prefix.

If you want to use 不 (bù) in a sentence, an example would be “我不要” (Wǒ bù yào) which means “I don’t want.” Here are more examples of using 不 (bù) or no:

  • 你不可以 (nǐ bùkěyǐ) You can’t
  • 他不会说中文 (tā bù huì shuō zhōngwén) He doesn’t know how to speak Chinese
  • 不,我不想去 。( bù, wǒ bù xiǎng qù) No, I don’t want to go.
  • 不喜欢 (bù xǐ huān) Don’t like/ Dislike
  • 不要。 (bù yào) Not want

While in the English language or other languages, you’ll simply use the answer “no,” in Mandarin, you have to use a sentence. It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t, and you’ll get used to it very quickly.

不是 | bù shì | no; is not; not be

不是 (bù shì), which in English means “no; is not; not be,” is used to negate adjectives, verbs, and nouns. People use 不是 (bù shì) when they want to say that something is not correct or true. For example, “这个不是我的书 (zhège bù shì wǒde shū) which means “This is not my book.” Here are more examples:

  • 这个不是你的笔 (zhège bù shì nǐde bǐ) This is not your pen.
  • 这不是你的头发 (zhèbù shì nǐde tóufa) This is not your hair

不是 (bù shì) may sound like a simple term, but it is one of the most important and versatile phrases in Mandarin. A lot of native Chinese speakers use it in their daily conversations.

不行 | bù xíng | not ok; not alright

不行 | bù xíng | not ok; not alright

不行 is a versatile phrase that can be used in many different ways. If you are in a situation where you are not feeling well, or something is not right, you can use 不行 (bù xíng) which in English means “not ok; not alright.” Take note that the “xíng” has a rising tone. Chinese people use this if they need to say “no” but want to be more polite.

For example, if someone asks you for a favor and you don’t want to do it, you can say “这个不行 (zhège bùxíng), which is literally translated to “This is not ok.” Here are more examples:

  • 我不行了 (Wǒ bùxíng le) I’m not feeling well
  • 这个地方不行 (zhège dìfang bùxíng) This place is not good.

不可以 | bù kě yǐ | may not; cannot

We can’t always allow people to do as they please. Sometimes we have to say “no” with a little more force. In cases such as these, we can use 不 可以 (bù kě yǐ), which in English literally translates to “may not; cannot.”

For example, if someone asks you for your phone and you don’t want to give it to them, you can say “这个不可以 (zhège bù kě yǐ), which has the literal translation of “You may not have this.” Or when a person wants to smoke, and they ask you if it’s ok, you can say “不 可以” (bù kě yǐ), which means “No, you cannot smoke here.”

  • 你不可以进来 (nǐ bù kě yǐ jìnlái) You cannot come in
  • 你不可以用 (nǐ bù kě yǐ yòng) You cannot use it.
  • 我不可以告诉你 (Wǒ bù kě yǐ gàosu nǐ) I cannot tell you.
  • 这个答案不可以用 (zhège dá’àn bù kě yǐ yòng) This answer cannot be used.

没/没有 | MÉI/ MÉI YǑU | don’t have; have not; no

When someone needs something, and we don’t have it, we can say “没有 (méi yǒu)” which in English has the literal meaning of “don’t have; have not; no.” This is one of the direct ways of saying “no” and is usually used when the person asking is not someone you are close with.

For example, if your friend asks you for a pencil and you don’t have one, you can say “我没有 (Wǒ méiyǒu) which has the literal meaning of “I don’t have.” Another example is when someone asks you “你吃了吗?” (nǐ chī le ma?) which means “Have you eaten yet?” you can respond by saying “没有。” (méi yǒu.) or “No (I haven’t). Here are more examples:

  • 你没有钱吗? (nǐ méiyǒu qián ma?) Do you have money?
  • 我没有 (Wǒ méiyǒu) I don’t have.
  • 这个没有 (zhège méiyǒu) This doesn’t have.
  • 没 门 儿! (méi mén er!) No way!

Some elderly people may not be familiar with using 没有 (méi yǒu), so they may use the phrase “没 (méi)” which in English means “don’t have; have not.” While they are both used to saying “no,” they have a different context. 没有 is more direct while 没 sometimes sounds like the person is trying to be polite.

不对 | bù duì | incorrect; not correct

不对 | bù duì | incorrect; not correct

If you’re discussing with someone from China or someone who can speak the Chinese language, 不对 is a phrase you’ll definitely want to know. Let’s say you are in an argument with native speakers and you want to explain that their argument is not right, you can use 不对 (bù duì) which in English literally means “incorrect; not correct.”

For example, if your friend says that 2 plus 2 equals 5, you can answer them by saying 不对 (bù duì), which means “This is incorrect.” Here are more examples:

  • 你说的不对 (nǐ shuō de bù duì) What you’re saying is not right.
  • 你想法不对 (nǐ xiǎngfǎ bù duì) Your idea is not right.
  • 这种做法不对 (zhè zhǒng zuòfǎ bù duì) This way of doing things is not right.

While this phrase is used in many different circumstances, it is most commonly used in arguments or disagreements. When using it, make sure to be polite and respectful. 不对 (bùduì) can also be used when you are just indicating facts.

For example, if you are saying that something is a negative fact or not true, you can say “这个不对 (zhège bùduì), which should be the Chinese equivalent of “This is incorrect.” The translation may appear the same as 不对 (bùduì), but the tone is different. That’s why you should know what tone to use when speaking Chinese.

Chinese tones are difficult to master and can often change the meaning of a sentence. Be sure to use the right tone when saying 不对 (bùduì) to avoid any confusion or the possibility to respond negatively. For any aspiring Chinese learners who want to learn more about these Chinese tones, feel free to check out our website! We offer and teach online courses that can help you learn Chinese and improve your language skills! This way, you will also be familiar with Chinese culture.

非 | fēi | to negate; not; wrong

Among all other negations in Chinese, 非 is the most formal one. You will find it in text related to the law. It is common to see this negation feature in legal warnings or legal notices. Here’s a statement in whose English translation this absolute word will feature: Stealing is illegal.

If someone asks you if it’s ok to steal, you can answer them by saying 非 (fēi), which means “No, stealing is not allowed/legal.” Here are more examples:

  • 这不是非法的 (zhè búshì fēifǎ de) This is not illegal.
  • 他不能非礼我 (tā bù néng fēilǐ wǒ) He cannot disrespect me.
  • 在中国,非法行为会被处罚 (zài zhōngguó, fēifǎ xíngwéi huì bèi chǔfá) In China, illegal behavior will be punished.

非 (fēi) is a very serious expression and should not be used lightly. It’s important to know when and how to use it properly in order to avoid any misunderstandings.

Apart from learning Chinese phrases that convey negation, you should learn to say ‘no’ the way they do. Unlike in Western society, where one can easily say ‘no’ directly without any risk of embarrassing or insulting someone’s opinion or favor, in Chinese society, vague and indirect remarks are commonly used to convey ‘no.’


Saying no (besides the English word) is difficult in any language, but it can be especially tricky in Chinese. You’ll need to know the right words and pronunciation of tones to use so that you can effectively convey your message.

While there are many other ways to say no in Chinese, the most important thing is to be aware of each word’s different implications. Pay close attention to the tone of voice you use when saying no, and be respectful when using 不对 (bùduì). If you’re not sure which word to use in a particular situation, it’s always best to ask a native Chinese speaker or someone who is teaching Chinese.

This will save you from emphasizing the wrong thing or from accidentally insulting someone. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to say no in Mandarin like a pro!

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