no in German

‘No’ in German: Appropriate ways to say ‘No’ in German without being unpleasant

The word “no” in German is nein. It is essential to say a ‘no’ while keeping the situation in mind. Saying ‘no’ is also a very cultural-specific aspect. If you want to learn German online, you first need to explore the culture of German-speaking countries so that when you visit any of them you can say ‘no’ without being aggressive.

Simply saying Nein does not serve the purpose. Imagine someone says ‘Can you please help me and you reply in a single word ‘No’ rude. There are appropriate ways to say ‘no’, that totally depend on the situation you find yourself in.

Plus, saying ‘no’ sometimes gets very culturally specific. Few ways are acceptable in one culture but are highly unacceptable in others. Different cultures have different ways of saying ‘no’ to things.

If you are planning to visit Germany, it is feasible for you to explore its culture first. You can now learn German faster with italki. italki has a group of best online German tutors who are just one click away to bring their best instructional practices. Their in-depth lesson plans will not only enhance your vocabulary but will also help you to understand the German culture and minimize all the confusion such as a large number of people having ambiguity regarding which language to learn. A lot of people get confused between German vs. Spanish.

A lot of people are unsure regarding which language is better to learn. While it totally depends upon your purpose and goal. If you are planning to learn German, you are just at the right place. Stick to this guide till the end and you will learn the appropriate ways to say ‘Nein’.

Saying ‘no’ in a polite way

In German, saying “no” politely entails explaining the negation rather than simply saying “no.” This is also true in English, which is why it may appear obvious.

Assume someone walks into a hotel and requests to use the restroom, but they are not a guest, so they are denied.

Leider sind die Toiletten nur für Gäste dieses Hotels.

Translation: Unfortunately, the toilets are only for guests of this hotel.

They will almost certainly include one of the following phrases: Entschuldigung (excuse me) or Tut mir Leid (I’m sorry).

Es tut mir wirklich Leid, aber wir können mit dir nicht kommen.

Translation: I am truly sorry, but we can’t come with you.

Some people just repeat the verbs while saying no to a particular question. Some examples are as follows:

“Spielt ihr Gitarre?” (“Do you play guitar?”)

“Nein, Gitarre spielen wir nicht.” (“No, we don’t play guitar.”)

“Haben Sie einen Pepsi?” (“Do you have Pepsi?”)

“Nein, Pepsi nicht. Vielleicht wollen Sie einen Coca-Cola?” (“No, no Pepsi. Perhaps you would like a Coca-Cola?”)

This is clearly not the right selection of words. The word lieber is a good alternative to a direct no, as it means “rather.” It can come after nicht or can also be used alone.

Ich gehe lieber nicht in die Kneipe. (I’d rather not go to the bar.)

“Möchtest du ‘Moana’ sehen?” (“Would you like to see ‘Moana’?”)

“Ich würde lieber ‘Frozen’ sehen.” (“I’d prefer to see ‘Frozen.’”)

This is an excellent example of something that might appear a little too direct and rude in English but is perfectly acceptable in German. Whether you’re from a culture where the politeness scale is calibrated, as it is in German, recognizing how language affects politeness can be difficult.

Clear Way to Say “No” in German

Nein is an easy German word but it sometimes gets rude.  Following are the three common alternatives of Nein.

The first is nee, which sounds like Schnee (snow). This one is common; in fact, it can be found at all levels of German society. It is dialectal, and in some places, such as Bavaria, it is used instead of nein.

“Hast du den Spiel gesehen?” (“Did you see the game?”)

“Nee.” (“Nah.”)

The second is nö, which is used less frequently in everyday speech. Surprisingly, you will often see it in comics and books, most likely as a way to break up the dialogue rather than having everything be nein. Some people believe that nö is a little harsher than nee.

Willst du mit mir Kaffee trinken?” (“Do you want to have coffee with me?”)

“Nö.” (“No […and why would you think otherwise?]”).

The final word is nich, which is a contraction of nicht (not). It is strongly associated with Berlin, where the typical accent changes the ich to an isch sound.

“Hast du Hunger?” (“Are you hungry?”)

“Nich.” (“Naw.”).

We have another little word for “no” in German: jein, a cute combination of ja (yes) and nein. It’s only “good” until someone uses it to keep you from getting the information you need.

Warst du gestern Abend wieder bei Heather?” (“Were you at Heather’s place again last night?”)

“Jein…” (“Maaaybe…”)

Words to say No in strong situations

So far we have seen easy and standard ways to say “no,” but there are times when saying something with a little more force is appropriate. Some of the phrases that can be used in this regard are:

Auf gar keinen fall. (Under no circumstance.)

Überhaupt nicht. (Definitely not.)

Absolut nicht. (Absolutely not.)

Das ist hier nicht erlaubt. (That’s not allowed here.)

Nein. Ich will nicht. (No. I don’t want to.)

You can also use the word verboten, meaning “forbidden.” It certainly has a sense of strictness in it.

Im Park ist Rauchen verboten. (Smoking is forbidden in the park.)

This particular word frequently appears on signs in big bold letters. In the speech, it frequently comes with the word absolut, meaning “absolutely.”

Das Kaugummikauen ist in meinem Auto absolut verboten. (Chewing gum is absolutely forbidden in my car.)

Ways to say “No, but Actually Yes”

Now we will focus on one that goes hand in hand with “no”: doch. Basically, it’s a “yes” response right after a “no” has been said or assumed.

You may be feeling confused right now, but let’s look at an example:

Sie haben keine Geschwister.” (“You have no siblings.”)

“Doch!” (“Yes I do!”)

Ich hab’ keine Münzen… achso, habe ich doch. (I don’t have any coins… ah, in fact, I do.)

Whether it’s a hesitant “jein” or a firm “auf gar keinen Fall,” your new vocabulary will undoubtedly add some variety to your language skills. Pay close attention to how German speakers use these new expressions in context and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

We have compiled the alternate words for ‘nein’ in the following table that will help you to make the notes for yourself. 

GermanEnglish
 NeinNo
 NeNo
 NöNo
 Nein dankeNo thank you
 LeiderUnfortunately no
 JeinYes/No
 Ich glaube nichtI don’t think so
 Gar nichtNot at all
 Überhaupt nichtNot at all
 Absolut nichtAbsolutely not
 Auf gar keinen FallUnder no circumstances

There are several fun ways to learn German. For example, you can also learn German with songs, yes you have heard it right. You can learn the German words and their usage with German songs, movies, TV series, books, etc.

In this article, we have explored different ways to say no in German.  As already established, saying no is a very cultural-specific matter. You must be aware of German culture to avoid any embarrassing or uncomfortable situation.

Make sticky notes for yourself comprising these words. Do remember their context as well. Try to use these words in your daily conversations. It will not only give you confidence but also bring you the contextual clarity required.

You can visit italki to book your lesson plans. italki will provide you with the most comprehensive language learning experience ever.  The lessons are planned in the most personalized and authentic way. Most of the tutors are native speakers that will not only teach you but will also provide practical scenarios and examples to polish your German speaking skills and will make you fluent as well. Book your lessons and start today!