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Negation in Hebrew: How to Say No Like a Pro

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Expressing negation is a crucial skill in any language. Not only do we need to know the right word(s) to say in order to make logical negative sentences, but we also need to understand which forms are appropriate in which cases. Unlike some cultures, which seemingly struggle with saying no, Israelis are (as in all other spheres of communication) quite direct when expressing things like disinterest, the lack of something, or the inability to do something. While Hebrew negation may sound abrasive to the untrained ear, the fact is that there’s an art to it all, and a nuanced one at that. Today’s lesson will prime you to say no like a pro as we look at all facets of Hebrew negation.

The first thing to understand is that Israelis tend to be more frank than what Westerners may be accustomed to, with fewer niceties of conversation, less small talk, and less beating around the bush. When a situation arises in which someone wishes to express a negative, they’ll typically do so in the most direct and efficient way possible. The other person will generally not take any offense at such directness, as this is simply the nature of Hebrew.

That being said, you also don’t want to find yourself inadvertently exaggerating your directness. That’s why we’re going to look at different ways to express negation in Hebrew—including more formal ones—along with contextual examples to demonstrate their correct usage. Finally, we’ll look at some of the top words and phrases that you can use to say no in Hebrew.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Negative Statements
  2. Negative Imperatives
  3. Answering Questions with Negation
  4. Other Words and Phrases for Negation
  5. Don’t Be Afraid to Learn Hebrew – HebrewPod101 Has Always Got Your Back!

1. Negative Statements

The most basic thing we need to know is how to formulate simple negative statements. The great thing is that, by and large, you’ll only need to know one word: לא (lo). This word, meaning “no,” is your go-to for all things negative, though it can also take the function of other negative English words and phrases, such as “don’t” or “won’t.” 

Let’s begin by having a look at how לא works in context by comparing positive and negative statements, with לא being the only distinction between them. Note that the word לא comes after the subject and before the word or phrase it negates.

A- Use of the word לא (lo) – “no” /Japan road sign 302.svg

No Sign with Guy Holding Up Hand
  1. אני סטודנטית.
    Ani studentit.
    “I’m a student.”
  1. אני לא סטודנטית.
    Ani lo studentit.
    “I’m not a student.”
  1. אני רעב.
    Ani ra’ev.
    “I’m hungry.”
  1. אני לא רעב.
    Ani lo ra’ev.
    “I’m not hungry.”
  1. אני רוצה לראות סרט.
    Ani rotzeh lir’ot seret.
    “I want to see a movie.”
  1. אני לא רוצה לראות סרט.
    Ani lo rotzeh lir’ot seret.
    “I don’t want to see a movie.”
  1. ההורים שלי גרים בישראל.
    Ha-horim sheli garim be-Yisrael.
    “My parents live in Israel.”
  1. ההורים שלי לא גרים בישראל.
    Ha-horim sheli lo garim be-Yisrael.
    “My parents don’t live in Israel.”

B- Use of the word אין (eyn) – “no” / “there is no” / “there are no”

Woman Holding Hands Palms Up

The word אין (eyn) can also be used for simple negation. It means the opposite of יש (yesh), meaning “there is” or “there are,” which can also take the place of the English verb “have,” for which there’s no Hebrew equivalent. אין (eyn) is chiefly used to describe the lack of something. Here are some examples:

  1. יש מבחן מחר.
    Yesh mivkhan makhar.
    “There’s a test tomorrow.”

    אין מבחן מחר.
    Eyn mivkhan makhar.
    There’s no test tomorrow.”

  1. יש לי אחים.
    Yesh li akhim.
    “I have siblings.”

    אין לי אחים.
    Eyn li akhim.
    “I don’t have siblings.”

  1. יש לי זמן לדבר מחר.
    Yesh li zman ledaber makhar.
    “I have time to speak tomorrow.”
  1. אין לי זמן לדבר מחר.
    Eyn li zman ledaber makhar.
    “I do not have time to speak tomorrow.”

אין can also be used as an alternative to לא in negating nouns/nominal phrases or verbs/verbal phrases. However, unlike לא, which is used without any morphological changes (i.e. changes to the form of the word itself), אין must be conjugated to fit the subject’s gender and number, as demonstrated in the examples below.

Additionally, אין is generally considered a bit more formal. For example, you may encounter this word on signs warning of things not to be done in a given place, or in instruction manuals advising users on improper use of a product. 

  1. אבא שלי דתי.
    Abba sheli dati.
    “My father is religious.”
  1. אבא שלי אינו דתי.
    Abba sheli eyno dati.
    “My father is not religious.”
  1. אמא שלי אוהבת אוכל חריף.
    Imma sheli ohevet okhel kharif.
    “My mother likes spicy food.”
  1. אמא שלי אינה אוהבת אוכל חריף.
    Imma sheli eynah ohevet okhel kharif.
    “My mother does not like spicy food.”
  1. אני רעב.
    Ani ra’ev.
    “I am hungry.”
  1. אינני רעב.
    Eyneni ra’ev.
    “I am not hungry.”
  1. אתה מורשה להשתמש בציוד משרדי לשימוש עצמי.
    Atah mursheh lehishtamesh be-tziyud misradi le-shimush atzmi.
    “You are authorized to use office supplies for personal use.”
  1. אינך מורשה להשתמש בציוד משרדי לשימוש עצמי.
    Eynkha mursheh lehishtamesh be-tziyud misradi le-shimush atzmi.
    “You are not authorized to use office supplies for personal use.”
  1. את מוסמכת להפעיל את כלי הרכב הזה.
    At musmekhet lehaf’il et kli ha-rekhev ha-zeh.
    “You are authorized to operate this vehicle.”
  1. אינך מוסמכת להפעיל את כלי הרכב הזה.
    Eynekh musmekhet lehaf’il et kli ha-rekhev ha-zeh.
    “You are not authorized to operate this vehicle.”
  1. הרופא נמצא כעת.
    Ha-rofe nimtza ka-’et.
    “The doctor is currently in.”
  1. הרופא אינו/איננו נמצא כעת.
    Ha-rofe eyno/eynenu nimtza ka-’et.
    “The doctor is not currently in.”
  1. אחותי מעוניינת בפוליטיקה.
    Akhoti me’unyenet ba-politikah.
    “My sister is interested in politics.”
  1. אחותי אינה/איננה מעוניינת בפוליטיקה.
    Akhoti eynah/eynenah me’unyenet ba-politikah.
    “My sister is not interested in politics.”
  1. אתם רצויים כאן.
    Atem retzuyim kan.
    “You are wanted here.”
  1. אינכם רצויים כאן.
    Eynkhem retzuyim kan.
    “You are not wanted here.”
  1. אתן נמצאות ברשימת המוזמנים.
    Aten nimtza’ot bi-r’shimat ha-muzmanim.
    “You are on the guest list.”
  1. אינכן נמצאות ברשימת המוזמנים.
    Eynkhen nimtza’ot bi-r’shimat ha-muzmanim.
    “You are not on the guest list.”
  1. קרובי המשפחה רשאים להיכנס לחדר בלי ציוד מגן אישי.
    Krovey ha-mishpakhah rasha’im lehikanes la-kheder bli tziyud magel ishi.
    “Relatives are allowed to enter the room without PPE.”
  1. קרובי המשפחה אינם רשאים להיכנס לחדר בלי ציוד מגן אישי.
    Krovey ha-mishpakhah eynam rasha’im lehikanes la-kheder bli tziyud magel ishi.
    “Relatives are not allowed to enter the room without PPE.”
  1. העובדות יודעות איך התחילה השריפה.
    Ha-ovdot yod’ot eykh hitkhilah ha-s’reyfah.
    “The employees know how the fire started.”
  1. העובדות אינן יודעות איך התחילה השריפה.
    Ha-ovdot eynan yod’ot eykh hitkhilah ha-s’reyfah.
    “The employees do not know how the fire started.”

2. Negative Imperatives

No Written on Hand

Sometimes we want to tell people what they should or must do, and sometimes we want to tell them what not to do. This is when negative imperatives come in handy. In Hebrew, negative imperatives are formed with just one word: אל (al) – “do not.” Just be aware that, as in English, speaking to someone in the imperative voice should be reserved for situations of urgency, as it’s a highly direct form of speech, particularly when you’re essentially ordering someone not to do something. 

Here are some examples of negative imperatives in Hebrew:

  1. אל תרוץ בתוך הבית.
    Al tarutz betokh ha-bayit.
    Don’t run inside the house.”
  1. אל תאכלו באוטובוס.
    Al tokhlu ba-otobus.
    Don’t eat on the bus.”
  1. אל תסעי לשם לבד.
    Al tis’i le-sham levad.
    Don’t go there alone.”
  1. אל תפחדו, זה לא נחש ארסי.
    Al tifkhadu, zeh lo nakhash arsi.
    Don’t worry, that’s not a poisonous snake.”
  1. אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו.
    Al tistakel ba-kankan ela mah she-yesh bo.
    Don’t look at the jug, but at its contents.” (This is a saying equivalent to English’s, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”)

3. Answering Questions with Negation

Woman Making Iffy Face

Now let’s have a look at how we can answer questions with negative answers. As in most languages, there are a number of ways to do this in Hebrew, including with לא and אין. For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll look at the most common forms to answer questions with negation, though there are obviously others. We’ll illustrate these through a few short exchanges demonstrating negative answers to various questions.

  1. -יש לך 20 שקל במקרה?
    -Yesh lekha esrim shekel be-mikreh?
    -“Do you have 20 shekels by any chance?”

    אין עליי כלום.
    -Eyn alay klum.
    -“I don’t have a thing on me.”

*Note that Hebrew uses double negatives, so the above sentence literally translates to: “I don’t have nothing on me.”

  1. -את רוצה לנסוע לצפון בחגים?
    -At rotzah linso’a la-Tzafon ba-khagim?
    -“Do you want to travel to the North over the holidays?”

    לא, אני לא רוצה.
    Lo, ani lo rotzah.
    -“No, I don’t.”

  1. -אתה מעוניין להצטרף אלינו למסיבה?
    -Atah me’unyan lehitztaref eleynu la-mesibah?
    -“Are you interested in joining us at the party?”

    -אני מעדיף שלא.
    -Ani ma’adif she-lo.
    -“I’d prefer not to.”

  1. -את חושבת שתסיימי את הפרוייקט השבוע?
    -At khoshevet she-tisaymi et ha-proyect ha-shavu’a?
    -“Do you think you’ll finish the project this week?”

    לא נראה לי.
    Lo nir’ah li.
    -“I don’t think so.”

  1. -לדעתך ירד גשם היום?
    -Le-da’atekh yered geshem ha-yom?
    -“Do you think it will rain today?”

    לא חושבת.
    Lo khoshevet.
    -“I don’t think so.”


4. Other Words and Phrases for Negation

Man with Tape Over Mouth

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the more common words and phrases used in the context of negation. There are obviously many more ways of making a sentence or statement negative in Hebrew than what’s provided here, but this list covers the top 10 most commonly used negative expressions.

*Note the use of double negatives in many of the examples below. Though we saw this previously, it bears clarifying that Hebrew uses double negatives, with negative verbs or verbal phrases taking negative objects. This can be confusing for English speakers, as double negatives are not used in correct English, so make sure to pay attention!

  1. כמעט ולא
    Kim’at ve-lo
    “Hardly”

    אני כמעט ולא רואה טלוויזיה.
    Ani kim’at ve-lo ro’eh televiziyah.
    “I hardly watch TV.”

  1. בכלל לא
    Bikhlal lo
    “Not at all”

    הוא בכלל לא רואה משחקי כדורגל.
    Hu bikhlal lo ro’eh miskhakey kaduregel.
    “He doesn’t watch soccer games at all.”

  1. לעולם לא
    Le-’olam lo
    “Never”

    היא לעולם לא יצאה מישראל.
    Hi le-’olam lo yatzah me-Yisrael.
    “She has never been outside of Israel.”

  1. בחיים לא
    Ba-khayim lo
    “Never ever”

    -היית אוכל כריש?
    -Hayita okhel karish?
    -“Would you eat shark?”

    בחיים לא!
    Ba-khayim lo!
    -“Never ever!”

  1. גם לא
    Gam lo
    “Neither” / “Either” / “Nor” / “Or”

    מה שעשיתם זה לא הוגן וגם לא יפה.
    Mah she-’asitem zeh lo hogen ve-gam lo yafeh.
    “What you did was not fair, nor was it nice.”

  1. אין מצב
    Eyn matzav
    “No way”

    אין מצב שאתם עושים מסיבה בלי להזמין אותי.
    Eyn matzav she-atem ‘osim mesibah b’li lehazmin oti.
    “There’s no way you guys are having a party without inviting me.”

  1. אף אחד
    Af ekhad
    “No one”

    אף אחד לא שאל אותך!
    Af ekhad lo sha’al otkha!
    No one asked you!”

  1. אף פעם
    Af pa’am
    “Never” / “Not once”

    אף פעם לא מאוחר להתפייס.
    Af pa’am lo me’ukhar lehitpayes.
    “It’s never too late to make up.”

  1. כלום
    Klum
    “Nothing” / “Anything”

    מחר אנחנו לא עושים כלום.
    Makhar anakhnu lo ‘osim klum.
    “We’re not doing anything tomorrow.”

  1. שום דבר
    Shum davar
    “Nothing at all” / “Not a thing”

    שום דבר לא יכול לעצור בן אדם בעל רצון.
    Shum davar lo yakhol la’atzor ben adam ba’al ratzon.
    “There’s not a thing that can stop a motivated person.”


5. Don’t Be Afraid to Learn Hebrew – HebrewPod101 Has Always Got Your Back!

We hope you found today’s lesson useful. Even though our focus was on negation, we truly hope you had a positive learning experience. Our goal at HebrewPod101 is always to make sure you receive quality lessons that are informative, interesting, and clear. If there’s anything else you’d like to know about Hebrew negation, please get in touch with us, and one of our expert Hebrew teachers will be happy to respond!

Remember that with broad topics like negation, it’s best not to bite off more than you can chew and digest at any one time. For that reason, we recommend learning and practicing a few small language chunks at a time, rather than attempting to assimilate an entire lesson in one sitting. Practice these words and phrases a little bit at a time, and you’ll see that they’ll start to sink in before you know it!

Until next time, shalom!

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