Do you know the differences between 不 (bù) and 没 (méi)?

“不 (bù)” and “没 (méi)” are the two most commonly seen and widely used negative adverbs in modern Chinese. They also occupy a very important position in modern Chinese, but unfortunately many students often confuse their meanings. This article will start with an analysis of the different usages, with the goal of helping you understand when to use “bù” and when to use “méi”.

“Bù” negates predicate components and static actions or states, or is a static negation itself; “méi” negates things represented by predicate components, states or existence of time, or dynamic actions, or is a dynamic negation itself.

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1. Negation meanings and usages of “不”
A. “不+[adj.]” sentences of negation

When adjectives use “不” as a negation it is to negate a natural state or static qualitative adjective, and is stable.

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For Example:
(1) Dà péng lǐ zāi péi de cǎo méi bù tián.
大        棚  里 栽  培 的  草    莓  不   甜。
Strawberries grown in a greenhouse are not sweet.

(2) Bì yè le,kě shì wǒ xīn lǐ yī diǎn yě bù nán guò.
毕     业了,可 是  我  心 里一 点   也 不  难   过。
I graduated, but I’m not sad at all.

In example (1), “bù tián (not sweet)” is a negation of a taste of strawberries, an objective evaluation of the taste of strawberries, and a static negation. In the example (2), “bù nán guò (not sad)” is the negation of feelings, which are static and without any dynamic change.

B. Negation of objective truth

Objective truth and objective facts are constant. In a negation sentence expressing objective fact, “不” negates purely static and objective things such as truth and explanation. There is no action, and no appearance or change of state, so “没” cannot be used.

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For Example:
(3) Lì shǐ bù néng dǎo xíng.
历    史  不   能    倒    行。
History cannot go backwards.

(4) Rè dài dì qū cóng lái bù xià xuě.
热     带  地 区   从   来 不  下  雪。
It never snows in the tropics.

Examples (3) and (4) are objective truths or facts that are constant, so the negation of “bù” is a static negation.

In addition, it is worth noting that the most typical negative usage of “不” is to negate a sentence of judgment in opposition to the word “是 (shì)”, such as example sentence (5). Such sentences of negation are often used, such as “‘萍乡’是一个城市的名字,而不是一个乡镇的名字。 (‘Píngxiāng’ shì yīgè chéngshì de míngzì, ér bùshì yīgè xiāngzhèn de míngzì)” meaning “’Pingxiang’ is the name of a city, not a township.”

C. Denial of frequent, regular, and habitual actions

In modern Chinese, when denying “frequent, regular, and habitual” actions, “不” is usually used instead of “没”. The purpose is not to express their dynamic form, but rather the negation itself is a static negation.

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For Example:
(5) Wǒ nán péng yǒu cóng lái bù xī yān,yě bù hē jiǔ.
我       男     朋    友    从    来 不 吸  烟,也  不 喝 酒。
My boyfriend never smokes nor drinks alcohol.

In Example (5), the verbs “smoking (吸烟)” and “drinking (喝酒)” are habitual and regular actions, and “bù” negates them.

D. Negation of apparent subjective intention

“不” is mostly used to negate subjective will or intent. In fact, this denial of intent, attitude, and emotion is also static.

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For Example:
(6) Zhǐ yào yī xià yǔ,wǒ jiù bù xiǎng chū mén.
只       要  一 下 雨, 我 就  不   想     出    门。
I don’t want to go out as long as it’s raining.

(7) Mèi mèi xìng gé bǐ jiào nèi xiàng,bù xǐ huān zhè zhǒng shè jiāo chǎng hé.
妹         妹   性   格 比  较   内   向,   不 喜  欢     这     种     社   交     场    合。
My sister is pretty introverted and doesn’t like this kind of social occasion.

In examples (6) and (7), “want (想)” and “like (喜欢)” are strongly subjective, and the adverb “bù” is used to negate wishes and attitudes.

2. Negation meanings and usages of “没”
A. “没+[adj.]” sentences of negation

When adjectives use “没 (méi)” to negate, the negation indicates a change in the nature or state of something. When “méi” negates a state of something, it implies that the change is gradual.

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For Example:
(8) Zhè xiē yī fu shì jīn tiān zǎo shàng cái xǐ de,hái méi gān.
这       些 衣 服 是 今  天    早     上     才 洗 的,还   没   干。
These clothes were washed this morning, and they haven’t dried yet.

(9) Tiān méi liàng fù qīn jiù chū mén qù zhèng qián le.
天         没   亮    父  亲 就   出   门   去    挣      钱   了。
It wasn’t even light when my father went out to earn money.

In the example (8), the negative adjective “没” indicates a dynamic negation of “干 (dry)”, i.e. the process of clothes changing from wet to dry. In example (9), “没亮 (not light)” refers to the process of the sky changing from dark to light, which makes this a dynamic negation.

B. Occurrence and manifestation of negative actions, behaviors, and states

Due to the dynamic nature of “没”, it’s usually used to negate the occurrence or appearance of actions and states.

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For Example:
(10) Yóu yú yào jiā bān,tā zuó tiān méi qù cān jiā wǒ men de jù huì.
由          于 要   加  班, 他  昨   天   没   去  参  加  我   们   的 聚 会。
He didn’t go to our party yesterday since he had to work overtime.

“没” in example (10) negates an occurrence of an action or states. “没去参加 (did not attend)” represents a dynamic process in that the person in question originally intended to go but in the end did not. Thus, this is a dynamic negation.

C. Negate continuous actions, behaviors, and states

In some “还没…(呢)” (not yet…) structures, “没” negates a continuous dynamic process, and the negated action and state have not happened or appeared at the time of speaking.

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For Example:
(11) Dōu liǎng gè yuè le,tā de bìng hái méi jiàn hǎo.
都            两    个  月 了,她 的  病    还  没   见   好。
It’s been two months, and she hasn’t recovered from her illness.

The state of “病 (illness)” in example (11) has continued for two months, and up until the time of speaking it has still not improved – in other words, the state of “wellness” has still not occurred. In this case, the negation by “没’ is of a dynamic process.

Generally speaking, in terms of static and dynamic negation, the different usages of “不” and “没” can be distinguished more clearly. That is, “bù” is a static negation, and “méi” is dynamic.

HSK 3 quiz

Please select the appropriate word to fill in each blank.
A. 不 (bù)
B. 没 (méi)


You May Want to Learn More :

“How to Use “de” – “的”, “地”and “得” in Chinese Correctly?”
“Do You Believe Every Chinese Idiom Has 2 Sides?”
”Clearing Up Confusion Surrounding Some Confusing Phrases”

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