In Dutch there is the expression "Nee heb je, ja kan je krijgen." This roughly means that being told "no" after asking for something is only as bad as never asking in the first place.

Is there a more convenient English expression for this?

  • 4
    Kind of like " No shame in trying", "Can't blame a girl for trying..." Jul 19, 2019 at 20:13
  • 4
    @JanusBahsJacquet it is rather encouragement to ask at all even if you expect a no.
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 19, 2019 at 20:25
  • 4
    Not very common, but "If you don't ask, the answer is no" works here.
    – Davo
    Jul 19, 2019 at 20:33
  • 1
    @Mitch I think that is again about repeated asking or even nagging.
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 19, 2019 at 21:57
  • 2
    A related phrase for a different approach is the excellent: "It's better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission". That is, go ahead and try first.
    – Beejamin
    Jul 22, 2019 at 1:23

5 Answers 5


"There's no harm in asking" is a very common phrase


Also, perhaps when encouraging a timid person, "Go and ask, they can only say no".

Also, "Don't ask, don't get".

  • Ack, of course. I suppose I was in tunnel vision mode looking for a phrase with a similar opposition...
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 19, 2019 at 20:16
  • +1...I was struggling trying to come up with this expression, hence my poor attempts in comment. Jul 19, 2019 at 20:37
  • I formulate the sentiment conversationally as it doesn't hurt to ask or it can't hurt to ask; I don't know whether there might be transatlantic differences in the preferred wording.
    – choster
    Jul 22, 2019 at 14:39

Expressions from sports that have passed into common usage (in AmE) include "you miss 100% of the shots you never take" and "you can't score if you don't shoot", the latter perhaps being open to misinterpretation in the context of romantic relationships.

  • 1
    I've always been uneasy about the "100%" expression, since technically you'd have to divide by zero to get that figure. Is it really more common to say "miss 100%" than "get 0 points"? Jul 21, 2019 at 20:50
  • 2
    @KilianFoth - I've always heard "You miss all the shots you don't take", which might be better on the math side. I never liked the phrase though, since it relies on there being zero cost for missing, which isn't true even in sport, let alone the rest of life!
    – Beejamin
    Jul 22, 2019 at 1:25
  • Interestingly (considering this was a translation request from Dutch), Dutch also has "niet geschoten is altijd mis", which is pretty much a literal translation of your first suggestion, and is more common than the English version (AFAIK)
    – Jasper
    Jul 22, 2019 at 11:15
  • You don't have to divide by zero. There is a strictly positive number of shots that you don't take. It's much larger than the number of shots you do take.
    – bdsl
    Jul 22, 2019 at 11:57

Another similar phrase is ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.

(Or the android equivalent: ‘If you don't GOSUB a program loop, you'll never get a subroutine.’)


'If you don't ask you don't get' is in pretty common usage with many minor variations.

There's a colloquial alternative from north east england, which I'm quite fond of:

'Shy bairns get nowt.'

  • 2
    That sounds Scottish to me. Don't expect most English people to know what a bairn is.
    – Richard
    Jul 22, 2019 at 10:03
  • 1
    @Richard I can attest to its regular use around the Newcastle, Sunderland area, at a minimum.
    – Tiggerous
    Jul 22, 2019 at 10:05
  • @Richard Yeah, this doesn't even read as English to me...
    – user91988
    Jul 22, 2019 at 19:22
  • 2
    @Richard I'd be very surprised if most people in England didn't at least understand what a bairn was even if it's not a word they'd use themselves. On the other hand not many Scots would say 'nowt'.
    – Mynamite
    Jul 23, 2019 at 21:50

This sounds very much like the saying no such thing as a stupid question.

To quote at a bit of length from its Wikipedia article (because it's worth it):

"(There's) no such thing as a stupid question" is a popular phrase with a long history. It suggests that the quest for knowledge includes failure, and that just because one person may know less than others they should not be afraid to ask rather than pretend they already know. In many cases multiple people may not know but are too afraid to ask the "stupid question"; the one who asks the question may in fact be doing a service to those around them . . .

Carl Sagan, in his work The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark said: "There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question".

A woman, recounting a story about an old man who used to answer all her "stupid questions", explained "Chica, if you ask a question it makes you look stupid for 5 minutes – but if you don't ask – you stay stupid for fifty years, so always ask questions in your life".

A 1970 Dear Abby column in The Milwaukee Sentinel said: "There is no such thing as a stupid question if it's sincere. Better to ask and risk appearing stupid than to continue on your ignorant way and make a stupid mistake."

Colin Powell says: "there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers". Presentation Skills That Will Take You to the Top says that within the business world, the adage holds true. The book adds "a question might be uninformed, tangential, or seemingly irrelevant, but, whether the presenter perceives it to be stupid or not, every audience member has every right to ask any sort of question".

In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions – When It Counts suggests that there are no stupid questions, rather there are tangential questions, and that these should be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

Designing Field Studies for Biodiversity Conservation says "there's no such thing as a stupid question, as long as it ends in a question mark".

Obviously, it's been used in mostly different contexts in each of these, but the essential part of the statement remains the same.

  • 2
    The Dutch question is about making requests or asking favours, not about asking for information. Isn't "there's no such thing as a stupid question" mainly about asking for information and explanations?
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 21, 2019 at 19:49
  • 2
    @ChristopheStrobbe If the question is supposed to be specific to favours only, then it should be amended to make that clear. It only says "asking for something," which could be anything. As I don't speak Dutch, I can only go by what was provided in English. Jul 21, 2019 at 19:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.