How to Say “No” in Korean: A Complete Guide for Absolute Beginners
Do you want to go to a cat café?
Do you want to sing karaoke at a noraebang?
Do you want to try eating raw octopus?
As much fun as saying “yes” to new experiences can be, you’ll eventually need to learn how to say “no” in Korean.
Korean definitely isn’t the easiest language to teach yourself, especially if English is your native tongue. However, if you’re willing to work hard, there’s no reason you can’t reach fluency.
The best way to improve your Korean speaking is to practice often. And one thing that’s important to practice is how to properly say “yes” and “no.”
In this article, we’re going to teach you how to say “no” in Korean.
There are several ways you can say “no,” depending on the formality of the situation and who you’re talking to. We’ll break down each way for you so that you’ll be prepared no matter who you’re speaking to.
Important Note About Saying “No” in Korean: Politeness Levels
The way you say “no” in Korean is going to change depending on who you’re talking to. There are two levels of politeness in Korean: casual (반말) and polite (존댓말).
You can use the casual politeness level in the following situations:
- When talking to somebody younger than you
- When talking to somebody the same age as you
- When you agree with somebody that it’s okay to use it
- When talking to classmates you know are your age
You can use the more polite 존댓말 in the following situations:
- When you don’t know somebody’s social status or age
- When talking in a business setting
- When talking to a stranger (unless they’re significantly younger than you)
- When talking to somebody you don’t know well
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure which one to use, you can’t go wrong being overly polite.
And that goes for any circumstance, not just when you want to say “no.”
One example is when you need to apologize. According to this video there are both informal and formal ways to say sorry, with varying levels of politeness.
How to Say “No” in Korean: A Complete Guide for Absolute Beginners
How to Say “No” Politely in Korean
The most common word you’ll hear and see written in Korean that means “no” is 아니요 (a-ni-yo). You can say 아니요 any time you’re disagreeing with somebody. You can usually use it the same way you’d use the word “no” in English (although we’ll go over one situation when you can’t, later).
Below are a few examples of how to use the word 아니요.
We’ve included the romanization of each sentence to make reading easier for you. However, if you haven’t already learned to read Hangul, we highly recommend that you prioritize learning it. The Korean alphabet is one of the easiest alphabets in the world to learn, and you may be able to learn it in a single day.
Here are some examples:
Q: 오늘 영어 공부했어요? (O-neul yeong-eo gong-bu-haess-eo-yo?) — Did you study English today?
A: 아니요, 공부 안 했어요. (A-ni-yo, gong-bu an haess-eo-yo) — No, I didn’t study today.
Q: 그 영화 봤어요? (Geu yeong-hwa bwass-eo-yo?) — Did you see that movie?
A: 아니요, 안 봤어요. (A-ni-yo, an bwass-eo-yo) — No, I didn’t see it.
You might also see 아니요 spelled like 아뇨 (a-nyo). This spelling is particularly common in comic books or in subtitles where speech is often written phonetically. It’s similar to saying “nah” or “nope” in English.
In formal situations, you can use 아닙니다 (a-nib-ni-da) instead of 아니요. You’ll also commonly see this form of the word in official documents.
In case you haven’t learned how to say “yes” yet, you can say 네 (nae) to say “yes” politely.
How to Say “No” Casually in Korean
To say “no” in a more casual way to people you know well, you can drop the 요 ending and just say 아니 (a-ni).
Here are a couple of examples of how to use 아니 if you’re talking to a close friend.
Q: 그 영화 봤어? (Geu yeong-hwa bwass-eo?) — Did you see that movie?
A: 아니, 안 봤어. (A-ni, an bwass-eo) — No, I didn’t see it.
Q: 오늘 영어 공부했어? (O-neul yeong-eo gong-bu-haess-eo?) — Did you study English today?
A: 아니, 공부 안 했어. (A-ni, gong-bu an haess-eo) — No, I didn’t study today.
You may notice your Korean friends writing 아닝 (a-ning) when texting. Adding ㅇ to the end of words is a common way to make them sound cuter, but the meaning is the same.
If you want to say “yes” casually, instead of saying 네 you can say 응 (eung).
If you’re a fan of Korean Dramas, you’ve probably already heard the word 아니 many times. Listening to Korean television is one of the best ways to improve your listening comprehension. There are several great programs that let you watch Korean television on demand like Viki and OnDemandKorea.
Answering a Negative Question in Korean
If you’re a native English speaker, the way that Korean people answer “yes” or “no” to a negative question might seem counterintuitive at first.
In English, if somebody asked you “Don’t you like cats?” you might respond by saying “No, I don’t like cats.”
However, in Korean, you’d answer like this:
Q: 고양이 안 좋아해요? (Go-yang-i an joh-a-hae-yo?) — Do you not like cats?
A: 네, 고양이 싫어해요. (Ne, go-yang-i silh-eo-hae-yo) — Yes, I don’t like cats.
Or like the following, if you do like cats:
A: 아니요, 고양이 좋아해요. (A-ni-yo, go-yang-i silh-eo-hae-yo) — No, I like cats.
When using “yes” and “no” in Korean to answer a negative question, it might be helpful to think in terms of agreeing or disagreeing.
Here’s another example:
Q: 오늘 학교에 안 갔어요? (O-neul hag-gyo-ae an gass-seo-yo?) — Did you not go to school today?
A: 네, 안 갔어요. (Ne, an gass-eo-yo.) — Yes, I didn’t go to school.
A: 아니요, 갔어요. (Aniyo, gass-eoyo.) — No, I went to school.
The Difference Between 아니요 and 아니에요
아니요 and 아니에요 (a-ni-ae-yo) may look similar, but they serve different functions.
When answering a yes or no question, you should always use 아니요 or one of its variations. 아니에요 comes from the adjective 아니다 and is used to negate a noun. It’s generally translated as “It is not…” in English.
As you may already know, 이다 (i-da) is the verb “to be.” If you add it to the end of a noun, you can say that the noun is something.
For example, here’s how you’d say “It is a dog”:
Adding 아니다 gives it a negative meaning, “It is not a dog”:
개 아니야. (casual)
개 아니에요. (informal/polite)
개 아닙니다. (formal/polite)
When answering a question, you may use both 아니요 and 아니에요 together in some situations. Here’s an example:
Q: 미국 사람이에요? (Mi-gug sa-lam-i-e-yo?) — Are you an American?
A: 아니요, 미국 사람 아니에요. (A-ni-yo, mi-gug-sa-lam a-ni-e-yo.) — No, I’m not an American.
Korean is definitely a challenging language to tackle by yourself but luckily, there are plenty of free resources to help you learn. You can find lots of great channels on YouTube like Talk to Me in Korean to supplement your learning.
Now that you know how to say “no” in Korean, you shouldn’t have any problems saying 아니요 the next time one of your friends suggests that you sing “Genie in a Bottle” at a noraebong.