I apologize if this has been asked. I'm a little surprised if not. I don't have much experience with non-European languages, but regardless, I see that "No" is almost always with "N", but "Yes" is very different from one language to another.
Si - No
Oui - Non
Yes - No
Da - Net
Da - Nu
Igen - Nem
Ja - Nein
I don't know anything about other languages, but even if this is not universal, why are the words for "No" so much more similar than the words for "Yes"?

  • 2
    As an unproven hypothesis: in many languages, "no" is derived from negative particle (NEG) + verb "is". E.g., Ukrainian "ні" [ni] ← P.Slav. "нѣту" [nje tu] ← P.Slav. "не ѥ ту" [nje je tu] ("not is here"). So your question can be reduced into "why NEG retained almost unchanged in various Indo-European languages?" Feb 15, 2016 at 17:29
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    Greek and Armenian don't follow the same pattern: όχι and ոչ ‎(očʿ) don't start with the letter n. Feb 15, 2016 at 18:27
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    In Russian no is нет and the e is not iotized so I removed the "y", because this word has no y-sound.
    – Anixx
    Feb 16, 2016 at 12:08
  • 2
    @Anixx Russian нет has a palatilized n, which is quite often transliterated as nj or ny or even n'. This is not IPA but a lot of institutions use it, including university libraries.
    – Alex B.
    Feb 16, 2016 at 15:08
  • 1
    So net is [nɛt] whereas nyet is [nʲet].
    – Alex B.
    Feb 16, 2016 at 15:18

4 Answers 4


A possible hypothesis is that words for "yes" tend to undergo replacement faster than words for "no". Think of the various near-synonyms for "yes" in contemporary English: "sure", "definitely", "absolutely", etc. If one of these were to become so common that it takes over from "yes", then the English for "yes" would no longer look like (for example) German ja. On the other hand, synonyms for "no" tend either to be phonetic variants of "no" ("nope", "naw") or to contain "no" ("not really"), so if one of those became the standard word for "no", it would still look related to nein.

  • Maybe, just a though, there's very little need to distinguish different ways to say "no"; a "no" is a "no".
    – Clearer
    Feb 7, 2018 at 10:21

This is not the case outside of indo-european languages, as has been pointed out to you. The most likely candidate for the origin of the nV forms is the PIE form *ne, which was a negation. But it could also be coincidence that different families converged there. I do not think there is a good explanation as to "why" the current situation came to be like it is.


What about the Japanese 'No' which is 'iie', or Tagalog which is 'hindi', or Lao, which is 'bomi'?

  • None of those are Indo-European languages. One of the tags on this question is "indo-european."
    – user67444
    Feb 16, 2016 at 22:53
  • For sake of completeness, Lao "bo mi" (NEG + have) are two distinct words, they can be used separately. And "bo" is derived from Mid-Chinese "bu". Mar 8, 2016 at 7:47
  • Yellow Sky Any idea if there is some other pattern of "no" in other language families? Aug 15, 2022 at 9:49

In Proto-Indo-European there was the word for not, it was ne. So affirmation would be ne e̯esti tod. The affirmation would be e̯esti tod.

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