I've learned from textbooks and online sites like Duolingo that "no" is いいえ, but I've rarely heard native speakers say that. I learned さあ today as sort of an "I don't know" response. I saw a subtitled film that translated "no" as いや. Are there more simple responses like these that can represent "no," and if so, can you include how common or polite they are?

  • 1
    さあ doesn't really mean "I don't know", it's more an indication that the speaker doesn't want to or isn't able to answer.
    – paullb
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 4:55
  • 3
    Related, maybe? japanese.stackexchange.com/a/24225/9831
    – chocolate
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 5:47
  • @paullb You said 「さあ doesn't mean "I don't know" but it indicates the speaker... isn't able to answer」. Did you mean "isn't able to answer" only in senses other than for lack of knowledge?
    – By137
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 14:38
  • @By137 What I mean "by isn't able to say" isn't for a lack of knowledge but more of it being a secret or they don't feel it's appropriate to say.
    – paullb
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 1:04
  • One I wish I knew sooner: When someone says 多分 to something they're requested to do, it most likely means いいえ.
    – Eriol
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 15:02

1 Answer 1


You're absolutely right about いいえ not being used as "no" in most cases. I can't recall the last time I heard a native speaker actually use it. Here are some of the most common ways I've heard the meaning of "no" being expressed:

違うよ - "to differ".

Speaker 1: お寿司が大好きだったよね?

Speaker 2: 違うよ!お寿司が嫌い!


Speaker 1: もう寝る?

Speaker 2: ううん、まだ寝ない


Speaker 1: もう寝る?

Speaker 2: まだ寝ないよ

だめだよ - "it's bad/wrong"

Speaker 1: このケーキを食べていい?

Speaker 2: それはお父さんのケーキだからダメだよ


This is a bit nuanced, so I'll refer you to this great description: The usage of いや in response to questions

  • Awesome, thank you! I think I've heard some of these before, so it'll be nice to better understand now. How is the first kanji in your answer said?
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 23:38
  • That fist word is ちがう, or ちがいます in a polite context
    – Nelson S
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 23:40
  • Thank you! I've only learned the polite version without kanji before. So much new vocab today.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 23:49
  • If including nuanced responses, I will add 「ちょっと」 with speaker tilting their head.
    – Z Kubota
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 18:35

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