‘Ni modo’ – Meaning / In English

In short – ‘ni modo’ is a colloquial expression used to express resignation, indifference AND disappointment in Mexico and Central America … but did you know that it can also be a form of mockery?

Yep, ‘ni modo’ has A LOT of different uses (and they can be pretty nuanced to boot!), so let’s get into the nitty-gritty and find out how to use it like a true native!

Oh, and we’ll also take a look at the super useful ‘ni modo que’ too!

Uses / Meanings of ‘ni modo

Ni modo’ can be used in the following ways –

  • To express resignation, akin to ‘oh well’ / ‘never mind’
  • As a synonym of ‘whatever’
  • To mock or tease someone
  • To state that a situation is without remedy, akin to ‘there’s no chance’ or ‘no way

To express resignation, akin to ‘oh well’ / ‘never mind

In Mexico ‘ni modo’ is one of the most common ways to verbally express acceptance of a bad (and often irremediable!) situation.

Manejando en el centro de la Ciudad de México

Gabriela – ¡Hay muchísimo tráfico!

Antar – Creo que estaremos aquí un buen rato…Ni modo, pongamos algo de música.

Driving in downtown Mexico City

Gabriela – There’s so much traffic!

Antar – I think we’re gonna be here for a while … Oh well, let’s put some music on.

It often translates well to ‘never mind’ –

Un compañero de trabajo trae café para todos en una reunión

Lidia – ¡Gracias! ¿Trajiste azúcar?

Alfonso – Ay, no, perdóname, se me olvidó.

Lidia – ¡Ni modo!

A co-worker brings coffee for everyone at a meeting

Lydia – Thanks! Is there any sugar?

Alfonso – Oh, no, sorry, I forgot.

Lydia – Never mind!

As a synonym of ‘whatever

In the previous examples you’ll mostly hear ‘ni modo’ being said in an amicable tone, but depending on context and intonation, it can also be used to express indifference.

It’s kinda like the English expression ‘whatever’ in this context –

En la escuela

Javier – ¡Reprobaste el examen, Andy!

Andrea – Ni modo. Ya estudiaré para el examen extraordinario*.

At school

Javier – You failed the exam, Andy!

Andrea – Whatever. I’ll study for the retake.

*Erika’s note – ‘exámenes extraordinarios’ are retakes that students need to sit during their vacations.

To mock or tease someone

As you can see, intonation is everything when it comes to using ‘ni modo’, so don’t be surprised if you hear someone throw in a mocking – or confrontational – ‘ni modo’ when referring to someone else’s misfortune!

Un niño le quita una paleta a su hermana, corre con ella y se cae

Hermano – ¡Mamá, me caí! ¡Me duele!

Hermana – ¡Ni modo! Eso te mereces por abusivo.

A boy takes a lollipop from his sister, runs away and then falls over

Brother – Mom, I fell! I’m hurt!

Sister – Boo-hoo! You deserve it for being a bully.

To state that a situation is without remedy, akin to ‘there’s no chance’ or ‘no way

People also use ‘ni modo’ to settle arguments, just as we’d whip out ‘no way’ or ‘no chance’ in English.

It’s particularly popular with parents who want to put an end to an argument they’re having with their kids.

Isabel – ¡Papá! ¡Por favor, déjame ir! Todos mis compañeros van a estar en la fiesta…

Joaquín – Tenemos reunión familiar, así que ¡ni modo!

Elizabeth – Dad! Please, let me go! All my classmates are gonna be at the party …

Joaquín – We have a family reunion, so there’s no chance!

By the way, if you wanna top up on your Mexican slang, you NEED to check out our “Master Guide” … it’s everything you need to know all in one place 👇🌵🇲🇽

Erika pointing to the word "Mexican Slang Master Guide"

Ni modo que’ meaning

You’ll definitely come across sentences with ‘ni modo que’ in Mexican Spanish!

ni modo + que = (there’s) no way + that

It’s used to RULE OUT a particular course of action, due to it being illogical, improbable, or impossible. So, it’s basically the Mexican equivalent of ‘there’s no way that’.

Easy right?

Well, unfortunately the following verb has to be in the subjunctive mood (uh-oh!).

Ni modo que salgamos a la playa en pleno huracán.

There’s no way we’re going to the beach in the middle of a hurricane.

Ni modo que lo haya terminado tan temprano.

There’s no way he’s finished it so early.

HOWEVER, don’t be surprised if you come across ‘ni modo’ followed merely by an adverb or short adverbial phrase; in these sentences the verb (in the subjunctive mood) is implied –

Carlos – ¿La fiesta va a ser a las 8 PM?

Pilar – ¡Ni modo que a las ocho de la mañana!

Carlos – Is the party gonna be at 8 PM?

Pilar – There’s no way it would be at eight in the morning!

The complete sentence would read ‘ni modo que fuera a las ocho de la mañana’, but the verb ‘fuera’ (a conjugation of ‘to be’ in the imperfect subjunctive) is omitted.

Olga – ¿Vamos a ir a la boda?

Ben – Ni modo que no (vayamos).

Olga – Are we going to the wedding?

Ben – We can’t not go.

Ya ni modo‘ meaning

‘Ya’ means ‘already’ or ‘now’ in English and when preceded by ‘ni modo’, well, it wouldn’t actually make much sense if translated literally … but as a set-phrase it means something like ‘oh, well’, ‘never mind’ or ‘whatever’.

You’ll also often hear it used with ‘pues’ (which means ‘well’ in English).

Franco – No pasamos a la final de fútbol.

Iván – ¡Pues ya ni modo! Lo intentaremos otra vez el próximo año.

Franco – We didn’t make it to the soccer final.

Iván – Oh, that’s too bad! We’ll try again next year.

Ni modo‘ pronunciation

‘Ni modo’ is actually rather easy to pronounce:

  • ‘Ni’ sounds like ‘nee’ (or the word ‘knee’ in English)
  • ‘Mo’ is said like ‘moh’
  • And ‘do’ sounds like ‘doh’

/ nee moh-doh /

Similar expressions to ‘ni modo

Ni pex

This is a VERY informal way of saying ‘ni modo’ in Mexican slang!

Although it’s family-friendly, ‘pex’ is a euphemism for ‘pedo’ (or ‘fart’ in English), which is considered more vulgar … so use it only amongst close friends!

Ni pex*, conseguiremos boletos para el siguiente concierto.

Oh well, we’ll get tickets for the next concert.

*Erika’s top tip – ‘pex’ is a VERY popular Mexican slang word. It’s even used as a greeting: ‘qué pex’.

Ya qué

‘Ya qué’ is short for ‘ya qué más da’ (literally ‘now what more is given’ in English), but it’s closer in meaning to ‘it doesn’t matter anymore’.

It usually conveys great sadness or resignation

¿La panadería está cerrada? No tendré pastel de cumpleaños. ¡Ya qué!

Is the bakery closed? I won’t have a birthday cake then. Oh well!

Y la queso

You’ll definitely see this one in memes, so I think it’ll come in handy … and NO, it has nothing to do with cheese! ‘Y la queso’ is actually short for ‘y la que soporte’ and it normally translates well to ‘deal with it’.

It’s a very new expression popular amongst Gen Zers in Mexico and it basically means that you’ve made up your mind and don’t care what anybody else thinks!

Me voy a ir a la playa por tres meses, ¡y la queso!

I’m going to the beach for three months, so deal with it!

Final thoughts

Hopefully this guide will help you master ‘ni modo’ once and for all. It’s one of those colloquial expressions that will definitely make you sound like a true native, whether you’re in Mexico or Central America!

Wanna learn more Mexican Spanish? Then make sure to check out the meaning of ‘fresa’ in Mexican slang. Nope, it has nothing to do with strawberries, I promise!

¡Hasta pronto!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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