It’s actually not straight forward to explain how to say No in Chinese! Spoiler: It is not “不”.
Recently, I’ve noticed my daughter has been using “不对” in Chinese to answer every question that could be answered with “No” in English.
Clearly, she has mapped “No” to “不对” in Chinese. It’s probably because I often use “不对” to correct her when she’s doing something wrong, and in the same situations I would have said “No” in English. However, her 不对 sounded off in many situations.
Then it hit me that in English, you can use a single powerful word “No” to answer a lot of questions but that is not the case in Chinese! Wow. I never thought of that.
How to say No in Chinese depends a lot on the contexts
The most straightforward translation of “No” into Chinese is “不”. However, native Chinese speakers usually don’t use the character by itself to answer a question. (Unless we want to refute something really quickly and strongly, such as in S01E45 Part 5 where Daddy Pig quickly refuted Peppa’s winning claim.)
Rather, we’d say “不对”, “不是”, “不行”, “不在” or “没有”, “别” etc, depending on the context. All of these expressions could be roughly translated into English as “No”.
How to say no in Chinese depends a lot on the contexts. Contexts are super important for communicating in Chinese. Don’t learn just the words, learn the context!
Like all my other articles about Chinese grammar and expressions, I’ll discuss some examples from Peppa Pig. I’ll also make up some examples in lieu of relevant examples from Peppa Pig. As I work through more episodes of Peppa Pig, I will update this post with more examples from Peppa Pig.
How to say “No, you can’t” or “No, don’t do it” in Chinese
In S01E03 Part 2 and S01E03 Part 3, Peppa was being a mean sister to George. George wanted to join her and Suzy to play, but Peppa rejected him by saying ”不行，乔治。我们的游戏只适合女孩子玩儿。” and later “不行，乔治。我在和苏西玩呢。“
In S01E07 Part 2, Mummy asked Peppa to not touch her computer. She scolded: “不行 ， 佩奇，你不可以乱碰 电脑。“
In all these cases, 不行 is saying “No, you can’t do that” or “No, I don’t want you to do that”
If somebody is about to do something that you don’t want them to do or something that is not allowed, you’d use 不行.
Say, a kid is about to destroy another child’s sand castle, you’d yell “不行”.
Another colloquial of telling somebody to not do something is 别 which means “Don’t do it”. For example:
- 我帮你？别。May I help? Nope!
别 is very colloquial. I can probably write about it in a different article all together. Make sure you know your contexts.
If the purpose of a question is to ask for permission and the answer is no, you can answer “不行”. For example:
- 我能开始吃饭了吗？不行。Can I start eating yet? No.
- 我能拍照吗？不行。Can I take a photo? No.
BTW, are you tempted to answer 不能 here? Don’t, even though the question uses 能. It’s way more natural to use 不行 to answer questions asking for permission. 不能 is more commonly used to indicate impossibility.
How to say “No, it isn’t” or “No, I’m not” in Chinese
In S01E45 Part 2, Daddy Pig was questioning Peppa’s claim that it was George who made all the mess. Daddy Pig asked rhetorically: ”那这条肯定是乔治的漂亮裙子喽？“ And George immediately denied by saying “不是。”
In S01E04 Part 1, George was asked to guess what is his grandparents’ new pet. He asked “是恐龙吗？” to be a dinosaur. Grandpa Pig commented: ”不，我们养的宠物不是什么恐龙“. No, our pet is not a dinosaur!
The 不 here actually makes the sentence sound foreign to me. So at the beginning of this post, I quoted Daddy Pig’s “不，是我们赢了” from S01E45 Part 5. But in the other context, Daddy Pig was saying things quickly and strongly, so it sounded right. But in the case of Grandpa Pig’s comment, I would have used “不是”.
When you are denying something you would say “不是”. I think generally speaking any question in involving 是 can be answered with 不是. For example:
- 是你的裙子吗？不是。 Is this your dress? No.
- 他是你爸爸吗？不是。Is he your dad? No.
- 地球是平的吗？不是。Is the Earth flat? No.
- 是你关的灯吗？不是。Is it you who turned off the light? No.
All the above examples are trying to say something is not something (objects) or something is not true (statements).
If you want to say something doesn’t have an attribute, you’d use “不 + adjective”. For example:
- 天气冷吗？不冷。Is the weather cold? No.
- 天气热吗？不热。Is the weather hot? No.
In English, these questions can be answered with “No” but in Chinese you would not say 不 but rather you’d use 不 + adjective.
In S01E09 Part 5, Peppa and George looked for Daddy Pig’s glasses everywhere, including the bathtub. Let me quiz you:
- 眼镜在浴缸里吗？不在。Is the glasses in the bathtub? No.
Any question that involves 在 + a location can be answered with 不在.
How to say “No, that’s incorrect” in Chinese
不对 is often used to describe a statement or action is incorrect. For example:
- 三乘六等于十六。不对。Three times six equals to sixteen. No.
- 地球是平的。不对。The Earth is flat. No.
If my daughter skips a number when she counts, I may say “不对”.
不对 can also be used to answer questions when the question is essentially for fact checking. For example,
- 三乘六等于十六吗？不对。 Does three time six equal to sixteen? No.
In S01E04 Part 1, when George had the wrong guess about his grandparents’ pet, Grandpa Pig could have also responded “不对” to mean “No, that’s not correct”.
Note that 不对 and 不是 would be referring to two different types of “No”.
不对 would refer to George’s guess was not right.
不是 would refer to their pet was not a dinosaur.
How to say “No, I didn’t” or “No, I haven’t” in Chinese
In S01E09 Part 2, Mummy Pig asked if Peppa and George have seen Daddy Pig’s glasses. She asked them: “佩奇，乔治，你们见到过猪爸爸的眼镜了吗？“, to which Peppa answered: “没有，妈妈。“
没有 can be translated into a simple “No” but in this context it’s closer to “Did not” or “Have not”.
没 would also be a valid answer whenever you can answer with 没有, and 没 sounds slightly more informal.
- 你吃晚饭了吗？没有。Did you have dinner yet? / Have you had dinner yet? No.
- 你把灯关了吗？没有。Did you turn off the light? No. (Contrast the question above 是你关的灯吗？The emphasis of the question is different.)
- 你病好了吗？没有。Have you recovered from your sickness? No.
As a side note, all the 吗 above can be replaced with 没 in spoke Chinese such as 你吃晚饭了没？ It’s more colloquial to use 没. That’s how I’d talk with my friends.
How to say “No, I don’t want to” or “No, I’m not going to” in Chinese.
Let’s use my favorite verb 吃饭 to make up an example!
- 你想吃饭吗？ 不想。Do you want to eat? No.
Here, you’d use 不想 rather than 不. You can also use 不要 to express a stronger No here. (Check out my article comparing 想 vs 要 vs 想要. Interesting to note, 不想要 is usually not a valid phrase in Chinese.)
You can also answer with 不吃 in this scenario. When you say 不 + verb you are essentially saying you are not going to do something (usually because you don’t want to.)
A similar example:
- 你想去公园吗？不想。or 不去。Do you want to go to the park? No.
Both 不想 and 不去 are valid answers. I think 不去 would imply a stronger “No” as in “I’m not going to go.” rather than “I don’t wanna go.”
Final thoughts on how to say No in Chinese
Do you have a situation in which you need to say “No” or a question you want to answer with “No”? Ask in the comments.
Saying “No” in Chinese is far from straightforward! I bet there are many situations I haven’t covered in this article. Please feel free to let me know.