Despite the best efforts of prescriptive grammarians, casual speech tends to follow its own rules.
As any speaker of Japanese knows, that language is no exception. Dropped particles, flipped word order, and some truly impressive spelling changes are all a part of colloquial Japanese.
The same is true in English, where words like “gonna” look just as confusing to the nonnative speaker.
More problems come in when you try to translate phrases like this between two languages.
Take “no problem,” for example. This expression doesn’t even have a verb or a subject in it.
Let’s look at how we can say it in Japanese.
How do you say “no problem” in Japanese?
“No problem” can be used in English to casually agree to something or respond to “thank you,” as well as to say there isn’t a problem. In Japanese, you can say「いいよ。」if you’re trying to agree to a suggestion with “no problem,” and with「いいえ。」(iie) or「きにしないで。」(ki ni shinaide) if someone is thanking you. If you need to say there is no problem with something, you can say「問題ないです。」(mondai nai desu).
The meaning of “no problem”
To get to the bottom of this question, we need to remember what “no problem” actually means in English.
To be grammatical, any clause in formal English requires a verb and a subject.
“No problem” actually has neither, because it’s not formal English, but the actual meaning is probably closer to “It isn’t a problem,” or “There is no problem,” which both have subjects and verbs.
Because the full sentence takes a while to say, most of the words get dropped in casual speech. The linguistic term for this is abbreviation or shortening.
The Pokémon game series is a great example of abbreviation in Japanese.
The Japanese ポケモン (pokemon) actually comes from ポケットモンスター (poketto monsuta, “pocket monsters”).
Digressions aside, what does “no problem” actually mean?
Although the literal meaning of “it isn’t a problem” can certainly apply sometimes, that’s not all this expression can do.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it can also be used to agree to something or to “acknowledge an expression of thanks.”
What we’re actually trying to figure out here, then, is a way you can tell someone that there isn’t a problem or to say “you’re welcome” or “I agree” in Japanese.
[いいよ。」(ii yo): “No problem” as casual agreement
If you want to casually agree to something someone has asked you, you can break out「いいよ。」 (ii yo)
いい (ii) is the Japanese word for “good,” while よ (yo) is the sentence ending particle that shows emphasis.
This is a shortening of [それはいいですよ。」(sore ha ii desu yo), more or less the equivalent of “That is fine.”
Although in translation it may appear as “sure” or “I don’t mind,” just like the English “no problem,” 「いいよ。」serves as a great way to casually agree to a request or suggestion in Japanese.
Two ways to say “no problem” in Japanese in response to “thank you”
Although it’s a bit of a stereotype to paint Japan as the land of politeness, it’s true that polite language plays a big role in some aspects of its culture.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that, as a result, there are multiple ways to respond to people thanking you for something, and that both of them are pretty self-effacing.
Then again, saying that whatever you’re being thanked for was “no problem” has the same effect in English.
The word 「いいえ。」 (iie) literally means “no,” so it might seem like a strange thing to say to someone who’s just thanked you for something.
However, the standard way to say “you’re welcome” in Japanese (どういたしまして, “dou itashimashite”) can sometimes come across as self-congratulating.
Because of that, people reach for いいえ to suggest that what they’ve done really isn’t worth thanks.
So you can think of the full version of this phrase as being something like “No, you don’t need to thank me.”
Of course, for all the reasons we’ve covered already, the only thing you actually have to say is 「いいえ。
「気にしないで。」 (ki ni shinaide)
「気にしないで。」 (ki ni shinaide) means “don’t worry about it,” making this common Japanese expression a great response if you’re the sort of person who says “no problem” a lot in English.
By telling someone not to concern themselves with what you’ve done, you’re suggesting that doing whatever you did was no problem at all.
To make it extra casual, you can add ね (ne) on the end.
When there really isn’t a problem
If you’re just trying to say there isn’t a problem with something, you can do that with the phrase 「問題ありません。」 (mondai arimasen) or, more casually, 「問題ない。」 (mondai nai)
問題 (mondai) is the Japanese word for problem, while ありません and ない are the polite and casual negative forms of the helping verb “to be.”
Put them together, and you’re literally saying a problem doesn’t exist.
You can also use this to respond to someone saying “thank you” or to assent to a suggestion, although the options above will sound a little more natural and relaxed to a native speaker in most cases.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.