After reading this related post, I started wondering: what are the differences between jein and naja?

I am especially interested in any context(s) where only one of them would be correct or appropriate.

2 Answers 2


Naja is in most cases used exactly as the English well to start a sentence. It can express reservation, but when you start a sentence with naja, you can both agree or disagree.

Wie findest du den neuen Film?

Naja, ganz gut.

Naja, ich habe schon bessere gesehen.

Jein is a word creation which should express "in a way, both yes and no". To be honest, I hardly ever hear it these days. Refer to its Wikipedia article (German).

Hast du schon den neuen Film gesehen?

Jein, ich habe bis jetzt nur den Trailer gesehen.

Jein, er war so langweilig, dass ich eingeschlafen bin.

So they have a different meaning, but both words are informal and not used in written speech.

  • What do you mean, "they are not used in written speech"? They are ubiquitous. If someone actually says "naja", how do you transcribe it?
    – RegDwight
    Jun 11, 2013 at 21:35
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    as "naja" (actually "na ja") is an interjection to express your doubt, it's not always appropriate, e.g. in official letters. "jein" is an adverb expressing your indecision between "ja" and "nein", I wouldn't it use in official letters either.
    – äüö
    Jun 12, 2013 at 12:09
  • @Reg: I used "written speech" as "official texts" like falkb said. It should emphasize, that these words are highly informal. Thanks for correcting my sloppy English by the way :)
    – marktani
    Jun 12, 2013 at 15:28

"jein" just means that you agree to what has being said, but that you disagree about one aspect that has been mentioned or that you restrict your affirmation, so "jein" could be translated as "Yes, but..."

A: Kann ich mir dein Auto ausleihen? B: Jein, höchstens für die nächste halbe Stunde. Dann brauche ich es selber.


A: War das nicht seine Schwester? B: Jein, es eine Freundin von ihm. Aber sie ist sozusagen wie eine Schwester für ihn.

I would never use "jein" in writing though... it's mostly used in informal speech

You can use "naja" when you are not 100% convinced of something; you could translate it with "Well..."

Naja, ich würde es an deiner Stelle nicht machen. Es wäre viel zu riskant.

Naja, nachdem was Sabine mir darüber erzählt hat, habe ich irgendwie mehr erwartet.

  • In other words, "jein" is fundamentally agreement, albeit with reservations? So "naja" is the more uncertain of the two?
    – 2C-B
    Jun 6, 2013 at 19:19
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    ad "jein": Correct. It can also mean that something is true only to some extent. ad "naja": Also correct. You could translate it with "well,..." (I've just edited my answer above.)
    – rena
    Jun 6, 2013 at 19:23
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    I don't quite agree. "Jein" is more if you are really in doubt about yes or no. Or if a question really cannot be answered with yes or no, because for some reason both answers are true. - Naja, however, is used if you agree or disagree with reservation, because you're having small, but certain, doubts. But still, you basically (dis)agree. For that reason, I'd go with naja in both of your "jein"-examples. You agree that they can borrow your car, but with the restriction of half an hour. And you disagree with her being his sister, although they're very close to each other.
    – Em1
    Jun 6, 2013 at 20:20
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    @2C-B Definitely.
    – Em1
    Jun 7, 2013 at 5:36
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    @2C-B Actually, both words are highly informal.
    – Chris
    Jun 11, 2013 at 8:01

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