Whether you’re simply declining something offered to you, or you have to explain why you can’t make it to an event or why you can’t accept something offered by a friend or colleague, it’s important to make sure you’re not being rude! Explore different ways to say no but thank you in Japanese.
Table of Contents
- How to Say No in Japanese
- How to Say No, (but) Thank You in Japanese
- The Basic “No, thank you.” when Declining Something Offered to You
- Three Key Points to not Offend the Other Person when Declining Their Invitation or Offer
- How to Decline Invitations or Offers from Friends in Japanese (informal situations)
- How to Decline Invitations or Offers in the Workplace in Japanese (formal situations)
- Closing Advice
Before we get into declining properly, we’ll briefly cover how to say no in Japanese.
はい (hai) means yes or correct in Japanese, and the opposite is いいえ (iie) which means no or incorrect.
[Fun fact: We also sometimes use いいえ to mean “No need to thank me” when thanked.
To read about other ways to say you’re welcome in Japanese, check out our article:
How to Say You're Welcome in Japanese - Don’t Default to Douitashimashite!]
For example, if someone asks a clarifying question such as
○○さんですか？(○○-san desuka?) - Are you (name)-san?
ーはい、そうです。(Hai, soudesu.) - Yes, that’s correct.
ーいいえ、違います。(Iie, chigaimasu.) - No, I'm not.
But we usually can’t use いいえ to decline an offer or invitation, so let’s take a look at the appropriate phrases to say “No, thank you.”
[To learn how to say thank you, check out our article:
Arigatou and More: How to Say Thank You in Japanese in All Types of Situations.]
Unfortunately it’s not as easy as sticking together the word for “no” and the word for “thank you”. But there’s different ways to say “No, thank you” depending on the situation.
(The most formal of the three,)
All three can translate to “It’s okay/fine”. The funny thing is, it can be used to mean both “yes, it’s okay” and “no, thank you” depending on the situation so it can be confusing, even for native speakers. It’s helpful to wave your hands to clarify that you don’t need it.
You can use any of the three to mean “No, thank you” if you’re offered a bag or receipt at the store, refill on water or tea at a restaurant, or a flier on the street.
Just be careful when it comes to tone, as if you say these brusquely, it can sound quite rude.
While the above three work for declining something quickly, usually offered by someone you don’t know, when it comes to turning down an offer or invitation by someone you know, the above is insufficient.
Whether the person you’re declining is a friend, coworker or superior, it’s important to be polite. Polite doesn’t necessarily mean formal, but it means not offending the other person by the way you decline their offer. Here are some key points to keep in mind.
Thank them for the invitation & apologize (or show that you feel bad) for being unable to make it
Provide a reason
Offer an alternative and/or make a future plan
This is to “soften” the fact that we have to decline in the first place. Whether your reason is true or if you intend to follow up on the future plan is of course up to you and the other person, but communication in Japanese is often about “saving face” and keeping the peace both for yourself and the other person in the moment, so it’s important to at least attempt to do all 3 steps to maintain smooth communication.
We’ll go into how to do all three of the above for each of the groups below.
Sasotte kurete arigatou.
Thank you for inviting me.
Note: Add gozaimasu if you need to be a little more polite.
For the reason you’re declining, there are a variety of situations. With friends, it might be better to be honest.
Start off with 行きたいけど (Ikitai kedo) - I want to go but… (of course omit this if not applicable.)
Sono hi ni yotei ga atte...
I have other plans on that day.
Note: If you feel comfortable, you could tell them the plan.
I’ve been busy lately.
Chotto setsuyaku chu de.
I’m on a budget right now.
○○ chotto nigate de…
I'm not really a huge fan of (blank).
Note: This could be used for food, the type of event, even large groups of people 大人数 (ooninzuu)
Adding phrases like:
Sorry I can’t make it.
Invite me again.
来週 (来月) は どうかな？
Raishuu (Raigetsu) wa doukana?
How about next week (month)?
Ochitsuitara renraku suruyo.
I’ll contact you when things are calmer (aka when you’re less busy).
are all good options to close off with. You can even combine a few of them if applicable.
This is when someone offers you something like food, or to help you.
Ima wa daijyoubu. Arigatou.
I’m okay for now. Thank you.
Arigatou. Chotto diet chuu de…
Thanks. I’m kind of on a diet right now…
For offers, you don’t really need to make a plan for next time or apologize for declining (unless they’re offering homemade food), but thanking them is important.
All of the above, both for invitations and offers, can be made to sound a little more polite to be sent to acquaintances.
If it’s a sudden invitation, such as to lunch or to drinks after work, you can always use:
Kyou wa chotto…
Today doesn’t really work…
Most people pick up that it’s a way to say no. (今日 can be substituted with 明日 (ashita - tomorrow) or the day of the week that applies.) If they press for details, you can explain why, such as
Yotei ga atte…
I have plans…
Shigoto ga nokotte ite…
I have work I have to finish up…
Taichou ga warukute…
My body isn’t in the best condition (I don’t feel well)…
Note that ちょっと (chotto), also used several times in examples above for the informal situations, is a very useful word! It both softens the fact that you’re declining but also shows that there’s a reason you can’t say yes without outright saying no.
There’s also polite but more firm ways to say that you won’t be joining, like:
Konkai wa enryo sasete itadakimasu.
I will refrain from participating this time.
You can add this phrase to the end of your reason.
For more formal invitations, it’s very important to show that you’re regretful that you have to decline.
Osasoi arigatou gozaimasu.
Thank you for the invitation.
Unfortunately (although I appreciate the invitation/offer)...
Note: This is the most polite.
Sugoku sanka shitai no desuga…
I (really) want to participate, but…
are important before stating your reason for declining, which may include:
Senyaku ga arimashite
I have a prior appointment/plan
Kazoku no youji ga arimashite.
I have prior plans with my family.
Again you can use
Konkai wa enryo sasete itadakimasu.
I will refrain from participating this time.
at the end of your reason.
Make sure to thank them and/or present an alternative.
Mata osasoi kudasai.
Please invite me again.
Mata koe wo kakete kudasai.
Please ask me again.
Tsugi no kikai ni wa zehi sanka sasete itadakitai to omoimasu.
I’d really like to join the next time there’s an opportunity.
Sono hi wa muzukashii desuga, ○○ wa dou desuka?
That day doesn’t work for me, but how about …?
(Note: You can always change “day” to “time (時間 jikan)”, and you can also offer an alternative time, day, week, month, etc.)
When someone offers to do something for you, wants to give you a gift, or perhaps someone wants to give you something in a professional setting that would be inappropriate to accept (due to work or personal policy), then there’s a perfect phrase for you!
Okimochi dakede jyuubun desu.
This means “Those thoughts/feelings/consideration is enough for me.” or how we’d say “I appreciate the thought/consideration (and therefore a gift is unnecessary).”
There’s other variations on this phrase, including:
- お気持ちだけで嬉しいです。(Okimochi dake de ureshii desu)
- お気持ちだけいただきます。(Okimochi dake itadakimasu)
- お気持ちだけ頂戴します。(Okimochi dake choudai shimasu)
but they mean similar things and can be used in the same way, the last one being the most formal.
If there’s a specific reason you have to decline, it’s best to tell them so, especially if this situation may come up again.
For example, if you’re offered food:
Sumimasen, ○○ ga nigate de…
I’m sorry, I’m not too fond of (blank)…
Sumimasen, ima wa onaka ippai de…
I’m sorry, I’m quite full now…
Jyubun itadaki mashita. Arigatou gozaimashita.
I received plenty/enough. Thank you.
And thank them for the offer, perhaps by saying one of the phrases above.
It’s difficult to cover every single situation and reason you may have to decline, but we hope this article was helpful and a good launching point for declining offers and invitations in Japanese politely.
Your facial expression, tone of voice and gestures are also key in communicating that you both feel bad for declining and appreciate the thought, so make sure to factor that into how you speak to the other person.
And if applicable, make sure to invite the person or offer them something from time to time to show your appreciation in return!
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