Vietnamese has many different way of saying “yes”, just like in English when you say “yes sir” to someone older than you, and “ya” to someone younger than you. Vietnamese has có, ừ, dạ, vâng and more.
The way you say “yes” in Vietnamese depends on:
- the age of the listener;
- whether you are providing a factual answer to a yes/no question (e.g., “Are you from Canada?”); or
- whether you are agreeing to a request (e.g, “Do you want to eat now?”) or acknowledging someone.
English has just one word (yes) for all of the above situations, but Vietnamese makes a distinction — and so must you.
For “no”, there is really only one word (không), which you will use a lot!
How to say “Yes” in Vietnamese?
· Có – pronounced like caw with an up-tone.
Có is used to answer factual, boolean questions that have a yes/no answer. For example, “do you sell banh mi?” or “do you have a brother?”
In contrast, there is a different kind of “yes” that is meant to either acknowledge someone or to consent to a request, similar to the English “okay” or “yes I agree”. For example, “Hey, are you there?” or “do you want to go to the movies?” For these types of questions, you must answer with được, dạ, vâng or ừ.
· Được – pronounced with a hard D dew-uck.
Được has a French “uh” and a short down-tone. You can use được with anyone of any age; it the equivalent of “okay”.
· Dạ – pronounced like “za!” with a short down-tone.
Use dạ when you are speaking with someone older than you or in formal situations (like “okay sir”). It is mostly used for acknowledging someone, or agreeing to do something, or giving your consent.
· Vâng – pronounced like vung.
Vâng has the same meaning as dạ, and should be used with people who are older than you.
· Ừ – pronunced ew like a French “u” with a down-tone.
You can only say ừ to people younger than you. Like dạ or vâng, it is used the same way as an English “okay”, such as when you acknowledge someone calling at you.
How to say “No” in Vietnamese? – Không
· Không – pronounced like hchum with a hard-aspirated “kh”.
The kh is like the Scottish “ch” in loch. The ông sounds like “um”. Fortunately, không is the only no-phrase you really need to know. It is also a fun word to pronounce — it sounds like Homer Simpson chumping on a donut.
How to say “okay” in Vietnamese?
The English word “okay” has been absorbed into Vietnamese. Even old people now say it among themselves. It is just one of many examples of of the Anglicization of Vietnamese.
Officially, the words “vâng, ừ, được, and dạ” are all equivalent to “okay”. Được is the most neutral and universal, whereas dạ is reserved for people older than you, and ừ is spoken to people younger than you.
Thumbs-up in Vietnamese
If you can’t remember all the various ways of saying yes/okay in Vietnamese, you can communicate effectively with a thumbs-up. Some hand-gestures are foreign to Vietnamese (like the British two-finders), while the thumbs-up is understood and used throughout Vietnam.
Cross your arms in Vietnamese for “No!”
If you forget how to pronounce không (no) and desperately need to communicate a hard “no!”, a very effective hand-gesture is to cross your arms like an X. This seems to stop Vietnamese people in their tracks, and is more recognizable than shaking your head or waving your hands.
Remember the X, it is super-useful, like if someone is being very pushy or trying to sell you something: an X will stop them!
Other Helpful Vietnamese Expressions
Interested in learning more? Please see our Word Of The Day blog that provides more expressions and key cultural insights about Vietnam, through the lens of helpful words and phrases.