How To Say No In Korean (with Audio!)

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This guide will not only introduce you to the word “아니요,” but also show you how to use it in various contexts. Get ready to listen, learn, and practice with native speakers, as we dive into the art of saying “no” in Korean.

Let’s get started.

Summary

The word is “아니요” (aniyo), used to politely decline or disagree. It’s versatile and essential in various situations. Practice by listening to native speakers and friends use “아니요” to understand its different contexts.

Basic Expressions for Saying No in Korean

When you need to express disagreement or decline an offer in Korean, it’s important to use the right level of politeness. Your choice of words can greatly impact the way your message is received. Here are some basic expressions for saying “no” in Korean:

Formal Politeness

  • 아니요 (aniyo): This is the standard, polite way to say “no,” suitable for most situations.

Informal Politeness

  • 아니 (ani): Used with people of the same age or younger, when a casual tone is appropriate.
ExpressionWhen to Use
아니요With strangers, elders, or in formal settings.
아니With friends, peers, or in casual settings.

Specifically Declining Offers

  • 고맙지만 괜찮아요 (gomapjiman gwaenchanayo): Literally translates as “Thank you, but it’s okay,” used to refuse politely.

Stating Disallowance

  • 안돼요 (andwaeyo): Means “It’s not allowed”; a firmer way of saying “no.”

Expressing Inability

  • 못해요 (mothaeyo): Conveys that you can’t do something.

Asserting Nonexistence

  • 없어요 (eopseoyo): Translates to “It doesn’t exist” or “There is none.”

Remember, Korean is a language with intricate levels of honorifics, so picking the appropriate expression based on the social context you’re in can help you communicate your message with respect and clarity.

Understanding the Levels of Politeness in Korean

The Korean language features distinct politeness levels based on social hierarchy and the relationship between speakers. Grasping these levels is crucial for proper communication.

Formal Politeness

Formal politeness or 존댓말 (jondaetmal) is used in highly respectful situations or when speaking to someone of higher status. This includes:

  • Conversations with elders
  • Interactions with high-ranking officials
  • Formal public speaking
  • Business meetings

Phrases typically end with ~(스)ㅂ니다 or ~아/어요, which are markers of formal speech.

Standard Politeness

Standard politeness, while still respectful, is more commonly used in everyday conversation. It’s the safe default when you are unsure about which level of politeness to use. Use standard politeness:

  • With strangers
  • When first meeting someone
  • In a formal work setting, but not with higher-ups
  • With service staff

The endings ~요 or ~아요/어요 convey a standard level of respect without the formality of ~(스)ㅂ니다.

Informal Politeness

Informal politeness or 반말 (banmal) reflects a casual communication style. Reserve this level for:

  • Close friends
  • Family members contemporary in age
  • Younger people, when appropriate
  • Casual, relaxed settings

Sentences typically end with plain verbs without polite endings. It’s important to receive implied consent before using this level of language with someone new.

Practical Scenarios and Examples

In this section, you’ll find specific phrases and examples for various situations where you might need to say “no” in Korean, from refusing offers to declining invitations.

Refusing Offers

When you are presented with something you do not want, it’s polite to use the phrase “아니요, 괜찮아요” (Aniyo, gwaenchanhayo), which translates to “No, I’m fine.”

Example:

  • Offer: 이 거울 어때요? (i geoul eottaeyo?) – How about this mirror?
  • Response: 아니요, 괜찮아요. – No, I’m fine.

Disagreeing with Opinions

If you find yourself in a situation where you must disagree with someone’s opinion, “아니요, 저는 그렇게 생각하지 않아요” (Aniyo, jeoneun geureoke saenggakhaji anhayo) is a way to state “No, I do not think so.”

Example:

  • Opinion: 한국 음식은 맵지 않다고 생각해요. (hangug eumsigeun mapji anhdago saenggakhaeyo.) – I think Korean food is not spicy.
  • Response: 아니요, 저는 그렇게 생각하지 않아요. – No, I do not think so.

Declining Invitations

To decline an invitation politely, you may say “아니요, 시간이 안 돼요” (Aniyo, sigani an dwaeyo) meaning “No, I don’t have time.”

Example:

  • Invitation: 주말에 영화 볼래요? (jumare yeonghwa bollaeyo?) – Do you want to watch a movie this weekend?
  • Response: 아니요, 시간이 안 돼요. – No, I don’t have time.

Setting Boundaries

When you need to set boundaries, a firm yet polite way to express your limits is by using “아니요, 그건 할 수 없어요” (Aniyo, geugeon hal su eopseoyo), which means “No, I can’t do that.”

Example:

  • Request: 이 문서 오늘 마감인데, 도와줄래요? (i munseo oneul magamindedo, dowajullaeyo?) – This document is due today, can you help?
  • Response: 아니요, 그건 할 수 없어요. – No, I can’t do that.

Final Thoughts

So, you’ve learned how to say “no” in Korean, right? “아니요” (aniyo) – it’s your new go-to word for those “nope” moments! Next step?

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