Jorge Sanchez

Jorge Sanchez

Jorge is the Monkey editor in chief at Mandarin Monkey. When he's not writing about Mandarin, he's learning Mandarin, spending time with his indoor cat, or playing outside.

18 (& More) Ways to Say No in Mandarin Like a Native Speaker


In last week’s article we learned pretty much all the ways you can say yes in Mandarin—in almost every possible context. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should because, you know, you’ll want to say yes to some things, like if someone asks you out on a date, wants to give you a pet beaver or offers you a free Mandarin lesson!


But you’ll also want to say no—like to politely decline a date invitation or a pet beaver, for that matter. 


And you’ll want to sound like a native speaker while you make all those great choices that you won’t regret, amirite?


So here are the 18 (plus a bonus round at the end of the article!) ways to say no in Mandarin like a native speaker would:


1. 不是 bú shì

  (shì), as you probably already know, is the verb “to be” in Mandarin. But it can also be used to answer yes to a Yes/No question. And we already know the best friend to shì, which is (bú). And actually, if you want to learn all the ways to say no in Mandarin, it’s useful to spend a little time learning about bú/bù on its own.

A Quick Rundown on How to Use 不 bú/bù

(bú/bù) is basically a negation particle which means “not” and when paired with shì as in bú shì, it means “it’s not.” But when you use it as a negative to a question that contains shì, it basically means no (although not literally). 


Simply put, you use bú shì to say something isn’t something.


But bú/bù isn’t exclusive with shì. It can pair up with other verbs to negate them as well, like (huì), (néng), (hǎo), 可以 (kěyǐ), (zài) and others you’ll see in this article.


The one verb that bú/bù is never friends with is (yǒu), so you cannot (I repeat cannot) answer questions that have yǒu with .


bú/bù plays well with these verbs:


With (huì), the verb for “can” as a skill:

( huì) means not able to, as in not having acquired a skill to do something.


With (néng), the verb for “able to”:

(néng) means not able to, as in not having the ability to do something. 


With (hǎo), the word for “good”:

(hǎo) literally means not good, not acceptable, etc.  


With 可以 (kěyǐ), the verb for “to be able to” as in allowed or permissible:

( kěyǐ) means not able to, as in not having permission to. 


With (zài), the verb for “at” as in the state of doing an action:

( zài) means not doing something at the moment, as in:



Wǒ bù zài dúshū.

I’m not studying.  


Ok, now that you know all the basics of bú/bù, it’s safe to venture into the other 18 plus ways to say no in Mandarin.  



2. 不是的 bú shì de

Although you could use 不是的 (bú shì de) in place of bú shì in most situations, bú shì de is used more when you want to say something isn’t true, referring to whether something is factual or not.  


If you remember that 是的 (shì de) means something like “yes, it is” or “yes, that’s right,” then bú shì de means “no, it isn’t” or “no, that’s not right.”


A. 我听美国人真的很喜皮蛋, 是這樣嗎?

     Wǒ tīng shuō měiguó rén zhēn de hěn xǐhuān pídàn, shì zhèyàng ma?

               I heard Americans really love hundred-year eggs, is that right? 


          B.   不是的 

    Bú shì de

    No, that’s not right. 


Of course, you may be into hundred-year eggs (aka century eggs) and that’s cool, too. 


3. 不对 bú duì

对 (bú duì) is another one that means “not right” and is most often used as a response to a question that specifically includes ? (duì búduì?) which means “right?” when you’re asking if something is correct or if someone agrees with you, as in:


A. 皮蛋真的很好吃, ?

    Pídàn zhēnde hěn hǎochī, duì búduì?

    Century eggs are really tasty, right?



    Bú duì



One useful tip to always sound natural when you’re saying no is to pay attention to the question itself. 


Just like in the example above, the question will contain a clue as to what’s the most natural way to say no for that particular context. 


This is not unlike English, in which you’ll hear things at the end of questions like “right?” and “you know?” and “isn’t it?” 


To which you would answer “right!”, “I know!” and “it is!” respectively—or “no, not really,” “no, I don’t know,” or “no, it isn’t” if you disagree. (Note that in English the addition of “really” acts to soften the no so it doesn’t sound as harsh.)


4. 不行 bù xíng

Remember how bù/bú pairs with other words to form a negative response? 


不行 (bù xíng) means no as in “not okay,” or “no way!” As you can see, it’s not a gentle no, by any means. 


But if the question includes 行不行? (xíng bù xíng?), which is a lot like the English “…is that cool?” or “…okay?”, then you could use it if you feel strongly about saying no. 


A. 你晚上六点来接我, 行不行?

    Nǐ wǎnshàng liù diǎn jiē wǒ, xíng bù xíng?

    Pick me up at 6pm, okay?


B. 不行

    bù xíng

    Nope, no way




bù xíng only means “no way!” in the sense that something is impossible (either virtually or actually) and cannot be used in the following scenarios: 


“I’m sorry but there’s no way we can help you.” 

Instead, you would use 不可能 (bù kěnéng) to mean “no way” here.


“No way will she agree to you leaving early.” 

Instead, you would use 不可能 (bù kěnéng)  to mean “no way” here.


“I’m glad to tell you you’ve been upgraded.” “No way!” I say.

Instead, you would use 真的假的! (zhēn de jiǎ de!) to mean “no way” here.


5. 不能 bù néng

不能 (bù néng) essentially means “cannot,” so you use it to say no when you just can’t do something, not due to ability (I mean, because you could) but due to other reasons, as in:


Say you can’t make a meeting time at work due to a scheduling conflict. You could use bù néng here. 


If someone asks you out to dinner but you have to cat-sit for a friend. You could also say bù néng here. 


You can also use bù néng as a prohibitive statement to tell someone “no, you can’t do something,” without your permission, that is: “Can I borrow your bike?” “Bù néng.”


6. 不可能 bù kě néng

不可能 (bù kě néng) means no in the sense that something is “impossible” or completely “out of the question.” It’s a bit like “no way!” but with even more emphasis. You would never want to use this to turn down a date, unless you don’t want that person to ever ask you on a date again—or like, speak to you.


A. John 很喜歡你,你們去約會啦

    John hěn xǐhuān nǐ, nǐmen qù yuēhuì la

    John likes you very much, you guys can go on a date


B. 不可能,他不愛洗澡也很邋遢,我不喜歡他 

  Bù kěnéng, tā bú ài xǐzǎo yě hěn lātà, wǒ bù xǐhuān tā

 Impossible, he doesn’t shower and he’s very sloppy, I don’t like him


But you can also use bù kěnéng when something is factually impossible.

Like if a friend asks if you can run a marathon in one hour? Bù kě néng!

7. 不可以 bù kěyǐ

不可能 (bù kěyǐ) means no as in “may not.” The reason it’s more like “may not” instead of “cannot” has to do with kěyǐ being a matter of permission—as opposed to the other ways to say “can” in Mandarin: (huì) for skill and (néng) for ability, give or take a little overlap. 


So you use bù kěyǐ to tell someone you (or they) cannot do something based on some rules, permission or obstacles, and not due to any lack of ability or capability.


8. 不要 bú yào

不要 (bú yào) means “don’t,” as when you tell someone to not do something. 



Búyào chànggē

Don’t sing.


But you can also use it in a very casual manner to turn down something, if the question you’re being asked has the verb yào (to want) in it. 


A. 你要我唱歌

    Nǐ yào wǒ chànggē ma?

    Do you want me to sing?

B. 不要 

    Bú yào 

         No. (Lit: Don’t want.)


9. 不用 bú yòng

不用 (bú yòng) literally means “no need to,” or “not necessary.” You can use it in this sense when you say something like:


Bú yòng xiè.

No need to thank me.


But more casually, you can also use bú yòng as a phrase on its own to turn down something, like if a store clerk offers you a special deal on century eggs. It’s a lot like a “nope,” or “nah, it’s fine (as in ‘I’m fine without that.’)” Of course, you can also add a xiè xiè right after if you want to up the politeness level. 


10. 用不着 yòng bù zháo

用不着 (yòng bù zháo) has a similar use to bú yòng in that it also means “no need to,” as in when you say:



yòng bù zháo dānxīn

Don’t worry (Lit: No need to worry.)



yòng bù zháo gēn wǒ kèqì

Don’t need to be polite with me



yòng bù zháo zhème shēngqì

Don’t need to be so angry 


11. 不太方便吧 bú tài fāngbiàn ba

不太方便吧 (bú tài fāngbiàn ba) literally means “not very convenient,” and it’s a, um, very convenient phrase to have handy if you want to turn something down in a very polite manner. 

You would use this to turn down a dinner invite from someone without hurting their feelings (at least, too much). 

12. 想一想吧 xiǎng yì xiǎng ba

想一想吧 (xiǎng yì xiǎng ba) means to “think about it,” and you use it in pretty much the same way you would say to someone “let me think about it.” 

Do you really need more time to think about it, or are you just very politely and indirectly saying no? 

13. 不太可能吧 bú tài kěnéng ba

不太可能吧 (bú tài kěnéng ba) isn’t so much a way to say no in Mandarin on its own, but more a way to say something is probably not going to happen. It literally means “not very possible” or “not likely” and it’s pretty much like the English equivalent “I don’t think so.”


A. 得我今天中

     Nǐ juédé wǒ jīntiān zhòngjiǎngle ma?

     You think I’ll win the lottery today?


B. 不太可能吧

     Bú tài kěnéng ba

     I don’t think so. (Lit: Not very possible.)


14. 没有 méi yǒu

(méi) is the negation to the verb (yǒu) or “to have,” so you simply use méi yǒu whenever the question has the verb yǒu in it.


A. 问题吗

    Yǒu wèntí ma?

    Question? (Lit: Have a question?)


B. 没有

    Méi yǒu

   No. (Lit: Don’t have.)

You can also shorten méi yǒu to méi without altering its meaning.

Quick Note on the Correct and Incorrect Use of 没有 méi yǒu

To use méi yǒu correctly you must always use 沒有 + Noun (because means to have, and you can only have objects, things, possessions, pet beavers, you get the idea.) 


(!) You cannot use 沒有 + Verb. 

You may hear people incorrectly saying things like:



Wǒ jīntiān méiyǒu shàngbān.

I didn’t work today.



Wǒ zuótiān méiyǒu qù xuéxiào. 

I didn’t go to school yesterday.


However, it’s worth repeating that the use of 沒有 + V here (and in all instances) is incorrect. People will still understand you. And in fact, many people use this phrase incorrectly, but now you know better. And with great knowledge comes great responsibility—to use it correctly:


The correct way to say you didn’t do something is by using (méi) alone, as in + V



Wǒ jīntiān méi shàngbān 

I didn’t work today.



Wǒ zuótiān méi qù xuéxiào 

I didn’t go to school yesterday.


15. 还没有 hái méiyǒu

没有 (hái méiyǒu) literally means “still don’t have,” as in when you explain to your friend you can’t give them a ride because you:


hái méiyǒu chē

still don’t have a car

16. 没门儿!méi mén’r!

Remember bù xíng which means something like “no way!”? Alternatively, you can switch it up with méi mén er! to mean the same thing.

You can also say 門都沒有! (mén dōu méiyǒu!) (Lit: Don’t even have a door!)

17. 請勿 qǐng wù

(qǐng wù) literally means “don’t,” so it’s a lot like búyào except that it’s more formal and you will usually see it mostly in signs that say “don’t do X” as in “don’t feed the beavers.”

18. 算了吧 suàn le ba

算了吧  (suàn le ba) literally means “forget it,” but you use it more in the sense that you’re asking someone to not be bothered by something or just let something be.

A. Susan的男朋友一直劈腿她,Susan還是要跟他在一起

Susan de nán péngyǒu yīzhí pītuǐ tā,Susan háishì yào gēn tā zài yīqǐ

Susan’s boyfriend keeps cheating on her, Susan still wants to be with him.


B. 算了吧,這是她的事。 

    suànle ba, zhè shì tāde shì.

    Let it be, it’s her business.

Bonus Round! 6 More Conversational Ways to Say No in Mandarin With Their English Equivalents


不要 (bú yào)


2. Nah

 不要 (bú yào)


3. Maybe next time 

下次吧 (xiàcì ba)

(zài shuō ba)


4. I’m afraid not 

應該不行 (yīnggāi bùxíng)

應該不能 (yīnggāi bùnéng)


5. Not as far as I know

我不知道耶 (wǒ bù zhīdào ye)


6. No, I don’t think so

我不確定耶 (wǒ bú quèdìng ye)


Ready to Start Saying No in Mandarin?

Okay, so now you’re ready to go out into the world and say no in all the ways that make you sound like a native speaker! Well, in case you also need to say yes, don’t forget to check out the 19 and more ways to say yes in Mandarin, too.


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