How To Say No In German

  • Stephanie Ford
    Written byStephanie Ford
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How To Say No In German

Learning how to say ‘no’ is one of the first words you’ll learn in German.

Chances are, you’ll already know that nein is the German equivalent for ‘no’.

But how many other ways of saying ‘no’ can you think of?

In this guide, I’ll cover the common ways of saying ‘no’ in German, as well as the more advanced, and nuanced expressions for a bit of variety.

Common ways to say ‘no’ in German

‘No’ in German is nein (pronounced ‘n-eye-n’).

Aside from nein, there’s a whole variety of words and phrases you can use to say ‘no’ or express rejection, disagreement, or disbelief.

After all, can you imagine if all everyone said was ‘no’ all the time? People would seem so blunt and rude!

Which is why a bit of variety is crucial when you learn German, not only to come across more friendly and empathetic but also to impress native speakers with your knowledge of their language.

Check out some common ways of saying ‘no’ in German in the table below.

English German
No. Nein.
Nah. Nee.
No. Nö.
Unfortunately not. Leider nicht.
Definitely not. Überhaupt nicht.
Absolutely not. Absolut nicht.
Not at all. Gar nicht.
Preferably not. Lieber nicht.
No, thank you. Nein, danke.

These are great for stand-alone answers, but this shouldn’t be your only form of reply when expressing ‘no’. Instead, shake it up a bit to avoid sounding rude or repetitive.

More ways of saying ‘no’

Many Germans offer explanations of their negative answers when saying ‘no’, as opposed to merely the word by itself. This may seem obvious because we often do this too in English.

One way of doing this is by repeating the verb used by the other person and forming a sentence with the word nicht (‘not’).

Listen to audio

Spielst du Klavier?

Do you play piano?
Listen to audio

Nein, Klavier spiele ich nicht.

No, I don't play piano.
Listen to audio

Hast du Hunger?

Are you hungry?
Listen to audio

Nein, Hunger hab’ ich nicht.

No, I'm not hungry.

Another way of expressing ‘no’ is through the word kein. In this instance, ‘no’ is being used as a quantifier (i.e., I have ‘none of’ something). Again, let’s take a look at some examples.

Listen to audio

Ich habe keine Zeit dafür.

I don't have time for that.
Listen to audio

Ich will keinen Apfel essen.

I don't want to eat an apple.

An important point to remember is that kein always precedes a noun. Whenever you want to say “nicht ein” - stop yourself. This is wrong and should be replaced with kein.

Also, kein takes different endings depending on the noun case. Remember to pay attention to those adjective endings too!

Formal ways of saying ‘no’ in German

Sometimes, you may find yourself in formal situations. During these scenarios, you might need to express disagreement with someone. So, how do you go about doing this without coming off impolite or rude?

Using formal ways to say ‘no’ can come across negatively stern or strict if used in the wrong contexts, so it’s worth paying attention to your situation.

The table below shows a number of phrases you can use to express negation in German while retaining an air of formality. For some, take note of the pronouns used and replicate them accurately, as these can be the difference between conveying appropriate sentiments and sounding rude.

English German
Under no circumstance. Auf gar keinen Fall.
That’s not allowed here. Das ist hier nicht erlaubt.
I don’t believe so. Ich glaube nicht.
I disagree there. Ich bin da anderer Meinung.
I don’t agree with you. Ich stimme Ihnen nicht zu.

Using doch as a response

The German word doch is an odd one. It’s used to express the contrary of something like a ‘no’ does, but in context it translates to more like a ‘yes’.

It’s used as a simple response to contradict someone, much like saying ‘no’. Take a look at these examples for a better understanding of when to use doch as a response.

Listen to audio

Du hast keine Geschwister.

You don't have any siblings.
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Doch!

Yes I do!
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Du hast gestern nichts gegessen, oder?

You didn't eat anything yesterday, right?
Listen to audio

Doch, ich hab’ viel gegessen.

Yes I did, I had a lot to eat.

So, you can see how it functions like a ‘no’ does, but how it also translates more directly to our ‘yes’. Hmm, it’s a tricky one this doch! But with a little practice, you’ll find it starts becoming part of your natural lingo.

Other useful negation words in German

There are so many words that carry an aspect of negation, rejection, or opposition. You’ll likely come across these in German, as they can crop up pretty often.

Some of these words are formed from nie (‘never’) and are used in contexts such as ‘nowhere’ and ‘nobody’. Check out some of the important words below.

English German
Never. Nie.
Never (more emphatic). Niemals.
Nothing. Nichts.
Nobody. Niemand.
Nowhere. Nirgendwo.

The word jein in German is another useful expression that will impress your native friends and family. It means ‘yes and no’ and is used when something is true, but you want to express a contradictory point right after.

For more information on jein, check out our article on how to say ‘yes’ in German.

Expressing improbability in German: saying ‘maybe not’

Sometimes, you might be a little more unsure of your answer.

This doesn’t merit an outright ‘no’, but would instead benefit from a more softer expression to convey a certain degree of doubt.

For these situations, you’ll want to learn how to say ‘maybe not’ in German. It not only expresses doubt, but can soften your answer and make you seem friendlier, as opposed to giving a blunt ‘no’ and coming off a little impolite.

Check out some different ways of saying ‘maybe not’ in German in the table below.

English German
Maybe not. Vielleicht nicht.
Probably not. Wahrscheinlich nicht.
Possibly not. Möglicherweise nicht.
It doesn’t seem likely. Es scheint unwahrscheinlich.
It’s doubtful. Es ist zweifelhaft.

Tips for training your German vocab

It’s great to go back to basics every once in a while.

Learning how to say ‘no’ in German comes with lots of variations, so it’s vital that you learn at least a few different ways of expressing negation.

And since there are some extra grammar rules thrown in, like noun cases with kein and pronouns with the formal Sie, training your German is always relevant.

Here are a few tips to stay on top of your German learning.

  • Read. All the time. It’s so important to read German books as a language learner, the comprehension practice you get from this is invaluable.
  • Seek out German podcasts to listen to in your spare time. The best thing about this is that you can listen to them anywhere, even on the go!
  • Enrol in online German courses where you can. There are many free ones you can find on the internet.

Now that you’ve learned how to say ‘no’ and some variations in German, you can express yourself more fluently whenever you talk in German.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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