Korean is not the easiest language to learn, especially if English is your first language. However, if you’re willing to put in the effort, there’s no reason you can’t achieve fluency. Learn to say no in Korean so that you can hold Korean conversations easily.
Depending on the formality of the situation and who you are speaking with, there are several ways to say “no.” We will go over each method so that you are prepared no matter who you are speaking with.
Levels of politeness in Korean
There are two levels of politeness in Korean: casual (반말) and polite (존댓말).
You can use a casual politeness level in the following situations:
- When conversing with someone younger than you.
- When conversing with someone your own age.
- When you and someone else agree that it is acceptable to use it.
- When conversing with classmates your age.
You need to be more polite in the following situations:
- When you don’t know a person’s social standing or age.
- When conversing in a professional setting.
- When conversing with a stranger.
- When speaking with someone you don’t know very well.
You can’t go wrong with being overly polite if you are in a situation where you are not sure which one to use. That applies to any situation, not just when you want to say “no” in Korean. Learning common Korean phrases will help you get the right confidence to start speaking Korean in front of the public.
How to say “No” politely in Korean
The most common word for “no” in Korean that you’ll hear and see written is 아니요 (a-ni-yo). You can say it whenever you disagree with someone. You can usually use it the same way you’d use the word “no” in English.
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.
If you are a beginner, try to learn Korean pronunciation through these examples. Getting a command of Korean pronunciation is a must if you want to be fluent in Korean.
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 is similar to saying “Nah” or “nope” in English.
If you find yourself in a formal situation, you can use 아닙니다 (a-nib-ni-da) instead of 아니요.
How to say “No” casually in Korean
To say “no” in a more casual way to people you have a level of comfort with, you can drop the 요 ending and just say 아니 (a-ni).
Let’s look at it with the help of an example:
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.
When texting, you may notice your Korean friends writing 아닝 (a-ning). It is common to add to the end of words to make them sound cuter, but the meaning remains the same.
Instead of saying 네, you can say 응 if you want to say “yes” casually.
Answering a negative question in Korean
If you are a native English speaker, the way Koreans respond to negative questions with “yes” or “no” may appear counterintuitive at first. If someone asked you in English, “Don’t you like cats?” You could respond, “No, I don’t like cats.”
In Korean you will answer something 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.
In case, you like cats. You will say:
A: 아니요, 고양이 좋아해요. (A-ni-yo, go-yang-i silh-eo-hae-yo) — No, I like cats.
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It may be helpful to think in terms of agreeing or disagreeing when using “yes” and “no” in Korean to answer a negative question.
Let’s look at 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.
What is the difference between 아니요 and 아니에요?
아니요 and 아니에요 (a-ni-ae-yo) may look similar, but they differ in terms of their function. When answering a yes or no question, you need to use 아니요 or one of its offshoots. 아니에요 comes from the adjective 아니다 and is used to negate a noun. It is generally translated as “It is not…” in English.
Remember that, 이다 (i-da) is the verb “to be.” can say that a noun is something if you add it to the end of it.
For example, here’s how you’d say “It is a dog”:
- 개야. (Casual)
- 개예요. (Informal/polite)
- 개입니다. (Formal/polite)
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 a difficult language to learn on your own, but there are many free resources available to assist you. Many people get confused about whether to learn Japanese or Korean. Well, it depends on your learning goals and objectives.
Now that you know how to say “no” in Korean, you should have no trouble using the right phrase for the right situation. Remember, learning a foreign language is not an overnight process. You need to allocate proper time to learning Korean on a daily basis. Try making notes and flashcards of phrases saying no in Korean. You can keep them with you and consult them whenever needed.