You may already know the meaning of nein – or the classic way to say no in German. While knowing this one word is a useful way to answer many questions, it won’t be enough to communicate everything you want to say.
What if you want to decline something politely? Or if you want to be very firm with someone? Depending on the situation, you’ll want to express yourself differently.
We’ll go over every type of no situation you might encounter, including the standard German no, polite ways to say no, saying no when you are hesitant, and saying no emphatically. We’ll also break down the sometimes confusing concept of doch.
No in German at a Glance
Simple No in German
If you want to simply say no you have different options, from the classic “nein” to the more informal “ne” or “nö”.
“ Nein ” is the most commonly used word to say “no” in German. It can initiate a negative sentence (which we’ll discuss later), but also stand on its own or answer a simple yes or no question.
Anja: Hast du Hunger?
Anja: Are you hungry?
“ Ne ” is used in the North of Germany and among a younger demographic in Germany. It’s a rather informal way of saying “no” in German.
Anja: Hast du deine Hausaufgaben schon gemacht?
Johann: Ne, noch nicht.
Anja: Have you done your homework already?
Johann: No, not yet.
“ Nö ” is the most informal way of saying “no” in German. It is most commonly used among young German speakers and is a carefree way of saying “no”.
Anja: Weisst du wo meine Schuhe sind?
Johann: Nö, das weiss ich nicht.
Anja: Do you know where my shoes are at?
Johann: No, I don’t know.
Using No in a Negative Sentence
As we briefly alluded to in the section about nein, a negative sentence in German contains somewhat of a double negation. While you initiate your sentence with “nein”, the complete negation happens when you add “nicht” (for verbs) and “kein” (for objects). Check out the following examples.
- Nein, ich möchte keinen Kaffee.
- Nein, wir haben kein Auto.
- Nein, sie essen keine Schokolade.
- No, I don’t want any coffee.
- No, we don’t have a car.
- No, they don’t eat any chocolate.
- Nein, sie fährt nicht nach Frankreich.
- Nein, ihr könnt nicht kommen.
- No, she doesn’t drive to France.
- No, you can’t come.
Do you see the difference? When you negate an object you use “kein” and when you negate a verb or an action you add “nicht”.
No to Decline Something Politely
If you are looking for ways to kindly decline something or want to express your regret about something, there are two main ways to go about saying this.
You might have guessed it on your own – “ nein danke ” means “no thank you” in German. It is most often used to decline something that was offered to you.
Anja: Möchten Sie einen Kaffee?
Johann: Nein danke.
Anja: Would you like a coffee?
Johann: No, thank you.
“ Leider ” can be translated to “unfortunately” and you can also use it to politely decline plans and offers or to express your regret over something.
Anja: Möchtest du am Dienstag mit mir ins Kino?
Johann: Leider kann ich am Dienstag nicht.
Anja: Do you want to go to the movies with me on Tuesday?
Johann: Unfortunately, I can’t on Tuesday.
Hesitant No in German
Sometimes you can’t really answer a question with a simple “yes” or “no”. Sometimes it’s something in the middle and other times you’re just not sure. If you are looking for ways to express your more ambivalent feelings try the alternatives below.
Can you guess what “ jein ” means? It’s a funny combination of “ja” and “nein” and means “yes” and “no” at the same time. It is often used as a little joke and an explanation usually follows. Check out the following examples and discover more:
Anja: Gehst du nach Spanien?
Johann: Jein. Ich gehe nicht nach Spanien, ich fliege.
Anja: Will you go to Spain?
Johann: I won’t go to Spain, I’ll fly there.
Ich glaube nicht
If you are unsure you can also use “ ich glaube nicht ” to say “I don’t think so” and express your uncertainty.
Anja: Wird es regnen?
Johann: Nein, ich glaube nicht.
Anja: Will it rain?
Johann: No, I don’t think so.
Emphatic No in German
Do you feel strongly about something and want to convey that feeling? Try adding a quantifying adverb such as gar, überhaupt oder absolut in front of your “nicht”.
“ Gar nicht ” means “not at all” and quantifies how much you don’t want to do something or don’t like something. “Gar” can also go with “kein”.
Anja: Gehst du gerne zur Schule?
Johann: Nein, gar nicht.
Anja: Do you like going to school?
Johann: No, not at all.
“ Überhaupt nicht ” is another fun way of saying “not at all”. Just like “gar kein” you can also “überhaupt” together with kein.
- Sie kocht überhaupt nicht.
- Ich habe überhaupt keine Lust.
- She doesn’t cook at all.
- I’m really not up to it at all.
You guessed it – “ absolut nicht ” means “absolutely not”. You can also use it in the context of objects and turn it into “absolut kein”.
Auf gar keinen Fall
“ Auf gar keinen Fall ” is a frequently used expression that translates to “under no circumstances”.
Auf gar keinen Fall stehe ich um 5 Uhr morgens auf.
Under no circumstances will I get up at 5am.
Using Doch to Say No in German
“ Doch ” is a commonly used word in German but it is often misunderstood by German learners because there is no direct translation for “doch” in English. You use it when you counter a negative statement and it is used similarly to the words “actually” or “after all” in English. Check out the examples below to learn “doch” in context.
Anja: Es regnet nicht.
Johann: Doch es regnet, guck mal aus dem Fenster!
Anja: It’s not raining.
Johann: It actually is raining, look out the window!
We actually wrote a whole post on how to use doch if you want to learn more.
Whether it’s an unsure “jein” or a firmly convinced “auf gar keinen Fall” – your new vocabulary will surely bring some variety into your language skills. Listen closely to how German speakers use these new expressions in context and don’t be afraid to make a mistake every now and then.