No Means No: Setting Boundaries and Learning to Decline in Korean

Bodhi Ramos10 min
Created: Oct 26, 2023Last updated: Mar 11, 2024
No in Korean

Learning how to say no in Korean, like in any other foreign language, is essential. It allows you to protect your boundaries and avoid agreeing to things that can be done while remaining polite and respectful. In today’s article, we’ll explore Korea’s most common refusal expressions. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Key Phrases for Saying No in the Korean Language

For starters, let’s discuss the most basic ways to say “no.” There are several options that differ according to the level of politeness and formality of the situation. You can see examples of such expressions below.

  • 아니요 (Aniyo) – [ɑnijo].

This is a polite and straightforward way to say no. It is suitable for various situations where you need to decline politely. For example:

Q: 진실로? 

A: 아니요, 그렇게 아니에요. 

(Really? – No, it’s not quite like that.)

X: 오늘은 놀자!

Y: 아니요, 일이 많아서 못 해요. 

(Let’s hang out today! – No, I can’t because I have a lot of work.)

A: 이거 괜찮아? 

B: 아니요, 고맙지만 필요 없어요. 

(Is this okay? – No, thank you, but I don’t need it.)

  • 아니 (Ani) – [ɑni].

This is a shorter and slightly less formal version of Aniyo Korean meaning in English. It’s used in casual or close relationships with friends and family. For example:

Q: 맛있어?

A: 아니, 별로야.

(Is it delicious? – No, it’s not that great.)

X: 뭐 좋아해? 

Y: 아니, 특별한 취향 없어. 

(What do you like? – No, I don’t have any special preferences.)

A: 내일 놀러 갈래? 

B: 아니, 바빠.

(Do you want to go out tomorrow? - No, I’m busy.)

  • 아니오 (Anio) – [ɑnio].

It is a slightly more formal and polite way to say no. Nowadays, it is considered the old style of speaking. It is often used in respectful contexts. Also, you can frequently hear this version in Korean dramas. For example:

A: 부탁해도 될까요? 

B: 아니오, 괜찮아요. 

(May I ask a favor? – No, it’s okay.)

Q: 이 일을 할 수 있을까요? 

A: 아니오, 이번에는 안 돼요. 

(Can you do this task? – No, not this time.)

X: 학교 행사에 참석하실 건가요? 

Y: 아니오, 다른 일이 있어서 불참할게요. 

(Will you attend the school event? – No, I have other commitments, so I won’t be able to attend.)

  • 안돼요! (Andaeyo) – [ɑndwɛjo].

This phrase is a firm Korean word for no, which literally means “It is not allowed.” It’s used when something is strongly refused or rejected. For example: 

Q: 이 수업을 건너뛰시겠어요?

A: 안돼요! 

(Would you like to skip this class? – No!)

X: 방과 후에 맥주 마실래요?

Y: 안돼요! 

(Wanna grab a beer after school? – No!)

A: 언니의 차를 빌려서 파티에 가자.

B: 안돼요! 

(Let’s borrow your sister’s car and go to the party. – No!)


6 Other Ways to Decline in Korean

Like in English, there are many other options to decline besides the traditional “no” in Korean. Learning them can help you choose the most appropriate phrase according to different circumstances. Check out some of the most common examples in our list.

  • 죄송해요 (Joesonghaeyo) – [tɕwɛsoŋɛjo].

This phrase means “I’m sorry” and is used when you want to express regret when declining a request politely. It is used when you don’t want to sound too harsh. For example:

Q: 오늘 밤에 도와줄래? 

A: 죄송해요, 이미 예약이 있어요.

(Can you help tonight? – I’m sorry, I already have plans.)

A: 빌려줄 수 있어? 

B: 죄송해요, 지금은 못 해요. 

(Can you lend it to me? – I’m sorry, I can’t do it right now.)

X: 우리 같이 영화 볼래? 

Y: 죄송해요, 오늘은 좀 바빠.

(Do you want to watch a movie together? – I’m sorry, I’m a bit busy today.)

  • 불가능해요 (Bulganeunhaeyo) – [pulɡɑnɯŋɛjo].

Unlike the polite previous expression, this phrase is a bit harsher. Literally, it means “it’s impossible” and is used when something is not feasible or cannot be done. For example:

Q: 내일 아침까지 이 일 다 끝낼 수 있어? 

A: 불가능해요, 시간이 부족해요.

(Can you finish this task by tomorrow morning? – It’s impossible, there’s not enough time.)

X: 이 일은 내가 할게. 

Y: 불가능해요, 이미 다 끝났어요. 

(I’ll do this task. – It’s impossible, it’s already done.)

A: 오늘 밤에 만날래? 

B: 불가능해요, 일정이 꽉 차 있어요. 

(Do you want to meet tonight? – It’s impossible, my schedule is packed.)

  • 못해요 (Motheoyo) – [motɛjo].

This expression is used to convey that you are unable to perform a specific task or action. It translates to “I can’t do it.” For example:

Q: 우리 같이 춤 출래? 

A: 못해요, 춤을 잘 못춰.

(Do you want to dance together? – I can’t, I’m not a good dancer.)

X: 오늘 저녁 해줄래? 

Y: 못해요, 요리 못 해. 

(Can you cook dinner tonight? – I can’t, I can’t cook.)

A: 이 일 도와줄래? 

B: 못해요, 나도 이 일을 몰라.

(Can you help with this task? – I can’t; I don’t know how to do it.)

  • 고맙지만 괜찮아요 (Gomabjiman gwaenchanayo) – [komɑptɕ*imɑn ɡwɛntɕʰɑnɑjo].

This phrase literally translates to “Thank you, but I’m okay.” It’s a way to express gratitude while politely declining without sounding too formal. For example:

Q: 오늘 도와드릴까요? 

A: 고맙지만 괜찮아요, 혼자 할 수 있어요.

(Shall I help today? – Thank you, but I’m okay. I can do it on my own.)

A: 뭐 좀 더 먹을래? 

B: 고맙지만 괜찮아요, 배가 부릅니다. 

(Do you want to eat more? – Thank you, but I’m okay. I’m full.)

X: 다른 주문이 있으신가요?

Y: 고맙지만 괜찮아요.

(Do you have any other orders? – Thank you, but I’m okay.)

  • 아니요, 다음에 할게요 (Aniyo, daeume halkkeyo) – [ɑnijo dɑɯmɛ ɑlɡɛjo].

If you want to say no in Korean due to some circumstances but still fulfill the request in the near future, you can use this phrase. It means, “No, I’ll do it next time.” For example:

Q: 쓰레기는 버리셨나요? 이제 여러분의 차례입니다!

A: 아니요, 다음에 할게요. 

(Did you take out the trash? It is your turn! – No, I will do it next time.)

X: 오늘 동생을 학교에 데려다 주실 수 있나요?

Y: 아니요, 다음에 할게요. 

(Can you take my brother to school today? – No, I will do it next time.)

  • 아니요, 아직 할 수 없어요 (Aniyo, ajik hal su eopseoyo) – [ɑnijo ɑdʑiɡ ɑɾ su ʌps*ʌjo].

This phrase is similar to the previous Korean no. It means “No, I can’t do it yet” and is used when you want to express that you’re not able to do something at the moment. For example:

Q: 스페인어를 할 수 있나요?

A: 아니요, 아직 할 수 없어요.

(Can you speak Spanish? – No, I can’t do that yet.)

X: 놀고 싶으신가요?

Y: 아니요, 아직 할 수 없어요.

(Do you want to play? – No, I can’t do that yet.)

The Importance of Learning to Say No in Korean

Now that you know every no meaning in Korean, it is time to find out why it is important to understand how to say it. Several reasons explain why the ability to decline in a foreign language politely is essential, even if you are just starting to learn the tongue.

  1. You will be able to maintain personal boundaries. Learning what is no in Korean helps you protect your time, energy, and resources and prevents overcommitment.
  2. You will avoid misunderstandings. Effective communication in any culture is vital to avoid any misconceptions. Saying no clearly and respectfully minimizes the chances of misinterpretation.
  3. If you plan to work in Korea, saying no will help you maintain a harmonious work environment and manage your workload effectively.
  4. You will preserve relationships. The ability to say no without causing offense allows you to preserve and even enhance relationships in Korean society. It demonstrates empathy and consideration for others.
  5. Understanding how to say no helps you avoid the stress and anxiety of overcommitting or agreeing to things you can’t fulfill.

As you can see, learning how to say no in Korean is not only about the basics of the language. It is an opportunity to protect your personal boundaries and avoid agreeing to things you can’t or don’t want to do. Such knowledge is essential for effective communication and your mental health.

How Do You Say No in Korean: Find the Answer with Promova

To easily navigate all the intricacies of the Korean language, you might need to reach for help, even if you are planning to self-study this tongue. Promova offers a convenient language-learning app for those who prefer studying alone to help them achieve their goals. Many benefits stand our app out from the crowd:

  1. You can spend only a few minutes a day and still reach the desired level of fluency. In Promova, we believe that practice and consistency matter more than the time spent. Therefore, we offer bite-sized learning, allowing you to spend 5-15 minutes per day and still significantly level up your skills.
  2. You’ll only learn the things that really matter. Even though there are numerous Korean words, we won’t try to make you learn them all. People roughly use a few thousand of all the existing terms in casual conversation. Hence, instead of hammering you down with unnecessary information, we focus on things that will indeed help you in your studying journey.
  3. You will practice and have fun at the same time. The Promova application provides you with access to engaging and interactive lessons created by our language experts. You will enjoy every minute of studying, and you won’t be bored! 

The Promova app is available for both iOS and Android devices, so you can easily install it on your phone, tablet, or any other gadget. If you want to know what is no in Korean, French, Spanish, English, or any other language – don’t hesitate to give Promova a try. It is your perfect chance to expand your vocabulary, practice speaking, learn the most useful phrases in the preferred language, and reach the desired proficiency level by studying anywhere and anytime you want.


Understanding how to refuse properly is vital, regardless of the language you are speaking. However, when we talk about Korean, it is also important to decline with proper respect and politeness to avoid misunderstandings. In today’s article, we’ve discussed the most common ways to say no. We hope it was helpful, and we look forward to seeing you in the next one!


What are some common mistakes people make when saying no in Korean?

One of the most widespread mistakes is being too direct when saying no in Korean. It is essential to not only refuse but also say that you’re sorry and explain the reasons for declining if possible. Another issue is neglecting politeness, failing to use honorifics, or choosing informal phrases in inappropriate settings.

How can one overcome the fear of judgment when refusing?

Firstly, you need to understand the reasons behind your fear. It often stems from a desire to please others, a fear of conflict, or a concern about damaging relationships. To avoid it, it is essential to recognize that setting boundaries and saying no is a crucial part of self-care. It doesn’t make you selfish or inconsiderate. It’s about respecting your limits and valuing your well-being. You should understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to prioritize your needs.

How does the Korean language and the use of honorifics impact the way “no” is expressed?

Honorifics and formal language greatly influence the way people say “no.” The choice of words and expressions can vary depending on the level of politeness required in a given situation. For example, using formal language and honorifics is crucial when speaking to superiors, elders, or in official settings. More casual language and informal expressions are suitable among friends and peers.

Are there situations where saying yes is preferred over saying no in Korean culture?

Yes, there are situations when it is better to accept the offer or fulfill the request, even if you don’t like it very much. For example, it might be considered rude in Korea when you decline the invitation for a drink. The reason behind it is simple – a person might think that you’re rejecting their offer of friendship. Also, saying no when someone is giving you a gift is harsh. You should accept it even if you don’t think it will be useful.


Samantha PriceNov 16th, 2023
useful insights into korean language and culture