How Chinese Say “No” In Various Ways? Hard Thing To Do!

Saying “no” is often a very hard thing to do – especially for Chinese people when dealing with acquaintances. This causes them to sometimes say “yes,” or other words, when they actually mean “no.” 

How Chinese Say

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For this reason, you may find it is difficult to refuse food or drink in China, as it may seem that no one is taking your “no” for a real refusal. Don’t worry, we know this sounds confusing. This cultural difference is the cause of several misunderstandings, hence the article you’re reading today!

Two types of refusals

There are two types of refusals in Chinese culture. One is a “real refusal,” while the other is “ritual refusal.”

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Real refusal

For a given invitation, sometimes people will offer an invitation merely as a ritual to show politeness (called a “ritual invitation”). This type of invitation often occurs at the end of the interactions, and functions as a proper way to say goodbye and keep a relationship open.

How Chinese Say

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For example

A: 有空来我们家玩啊(Yǒu kòng lái wǒ men jiā wán a.) Come and visit my home when available.

B: 好,到时打电话吧。(Hǎo, dào shí dǎ diàn huà ba.) Ok, I’ll call you then.

In this ritual invitation, A (the inviter) didn’t give many details about the invitation. Normally, B (the invitee) tends to accept the invitation without asking for further information.

How Chinese Say

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In some case, for instance, when the invitee is not sure whether the invitation is real or ritual, the invitee will refuse the invitation to ascertain whether or not the inviter really had the intention of inviting them along.

Refusal of Invitations

改天吧(gǎi tiān ba) Maybe another day,

下次吧(xià cì ba) Maybe next time,

以后/回头再说(yǐ hòu /huí tóu zài shuō) Talk about it later.

Ritual refusal

Sometimes, it is difficult to guess whether an invitation is real or merely a ritual one. In this case, a ritual refusal can be used to judge the real intention of the inviter. If the inviter doesn’t insist on inviting a second time, the first invitation can be interpreted as a ritual one, and declining is an appropriate way to respond.

How Chinese Say

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However, if the response of the inviter indicates that his invitation was serious, accepting the invitation is the appropriate way to respond.


For example

(Scenario: A and B are old school friends, one day they ran into each other on the street. An invited B have dinner together.)

A: 我们一起去吃饭吧,我请客。(Wǒ men yì qǐ qù chī fàn ba, wǒ qǐng kè.) Let’s dine out together, I’ll take care of the bill.

B: 还是我来吧。(Hái shì wǒ lái ba.) I’ll pay for it.

A: 跟老同学还客气啊。(Gēn lǎo tóng xué hái kè qì a.) There’s no need for so much courtesy to your old classmate!)

B: 那好吧,下次我请。 (Nà hǎo ba, xià cì wǒ qǐng.) Ok, I’ll treat you next time.

Refusal of offers

不用了(bú yòng le) Not necessary.

太麻烦你了(tài má fán nǐ le) It bothers you too much.

别忙了(bié máng le) Please do not bother.

Chinese people tend to decline gifts multiple times before finally accepting them. This is a ritualistic way to show modesty and to avoid indications of personal greed. Usually, formulaic expressions of politeness will be used to refuse gifts ritually, such as “你太客气了。(Nǐ tài kè qì le.) You are being too kind./不好意思。(Bù hǎo yì si.) Sorry to bother you.”

How Chinese Say

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These expressions can be considered as sign of ritual refusals. Sometimes, questioning the giver of the gifts are used in this type of refusal, such as “干嘛带东西来? (Gàn má dài dōng xi lái?) Why do you bring gifts?”/“干嘛买这么多东西呢?(Gàn má mǎi zhè me duō dōng xi ne?) Why do you buy so many things?”


For example

A: 这是送给你的。(Zhè shì song gěi nǐ de.) This is for you.

B: 干嘛带东西来啊? (Gàn má dài dōng xi lái?) Why do you bring gifts?)

A: 这是我的一点心意,请收下吧。(Zhè shì wǒ de yì diǎn xīnyì, qǐng shōu xià ba.) This is a little token, please take it.

B: 你太客气了。(Nǐ tài kè qì le.) You are too kind.

Like gifts, Chinese people tend to decline favours multiple times. In Chinese culture, this behaviour is a polite way to show modesty, because it indicates the willingness to not put many troubles on others. Usually, direct refusal, e.g. “不用了(bú yòng le.) not necessary. ” “太麻烦你了(tài má fán nǐ le.) it bothers you too much. ” is a common way to ritually refuse favours.

A: 我开车送你回去吧。(Wǒ kāi chē song nǐ huí qù ba.) Let me drive you back.

B: 不用了,太麻烦了。(Bú yòng le, tài má fán le.) It is not necessary, I’ll bother you too much.

A: 没什么,别客气。(Méi shén me, bié kè qi.) It’s no big deal, don’t mention it.

B: 那好吧,谢谢。 (Nà hǎo ba. Xiè xie.) Alright then, thank you.

This ritual refusal before final acceptance also often happens when people offer food or drink, especially when it is offered by unfamiliar people.

How Chinese Say

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That’s why when Chinese people offer you food or drink, and encourage you to “eat more,” they might end up giving you more and more food, even in spite of you saying “No, I’m full!” They interpret your refusal as ritual way to show politeness. To avoid eating more than you planned, I suggest you try “我现在不想吃。(Wǒ xiànzài bù xiǎng chī.) ”/ “谢谢,待会吧。(Xièxie, dāi huìr ba.)”


Refusal of unsolicited suggestions


我考虑考虑(Wǒ kǎo lǜ kǎo lǜ.)

我想想吧(Wǒ xiǎng xiǎng ba.)

– I will think about it.

Unsolicited commercial suggestions

Unsolicited commercial suggestions are often used by salespeople or advertisements when suggesting a purchase. The social distance between the salesperson and the listener plays an important role in the refusals of commercial suggestions.

How Chinese Say

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When refusing commercial suggestions by strangers, a direct refusal is acceptable like “不要,谢谢。(Bú yào, xiè xie. No, thanks)”. When dealing with acquaintances, though, excuses and/or postponements such as “我考虑考虑。(Wǒ kǎo lǜ kǎo lǜ.)/我想想吧。(Wǒ xiǎng xiǎng ba.)” are often used.


Refusal of requests


If someone requests information or advice from someone who is not willing to give it, the person might employ a verbal avoidance strategy, such as switching the topic, postponement, or dodging the question, such as

– 我不太清楚。(Wǒ bú tài qīng chǔ.) I am not really sure.


The Chinese concept of “face” and general characteristics of Chinese communication play a big part in how the Chinese choose to say no.

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The Chinese try to protect/respect the “face” of friends or coworkers by hiding the truth and replacing it with something less embarrassing or negative. These hidden negations also exist in many other languages and countries, though they’re not always as clear as they are in Chinese.

Furthermore, times are changing, even in China – Chinese people are now not always indirect when saying “no,” especially amongst the younger generation.

Hopefully, now you can understand the differences a bit better, and have an easier time adapting to Chinese indirect refusal!

How Chinese Say

Have you encountered a similar case that makes you feel puzzled or confused in China? Comment please.