Negation in Chinese: 不 Bù for Negative Chinese Sentences [Guide]

Negation in Chinese: 不 Bù for Negative Chinese Sentences [Guide]

Learning how to say yes and no is a basic vocabulary lesson for any language. How do you create negative response? Adding “no” in front of verbs and objects doesn’t make a sentence negative… Does it?

To get your answers, continue to read about this Chinese grammar point: Chinese negation with 不 .

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What does 不 () mean in Chinese?

不 () in Chinese means “no” and “not,” and it is a negation word. It’s one of the most basic grammar points you’ll encounter when you start learning Chinese. 

不 () is commonly used to negate a verb in the present or future or to talk about something you don’t do regularly as a habit. 

How to use 不 bù:

1. To negate verbs

Almost all verbs can be negated with 不 bù. However, this construction is only used for present or present actions. To negate a verb, simply place 不 bù before it:

Subject + 不 + Verb + Object

Here are some examples:


English translation

他们坏孩子。Tāmen shì huài háizi.

They are not bad kids.

我 今天工作。Wǒ jīntiān xiǎng gōngzuò.

I don’t want to work today.

了。 le. 

She isn’t going anymore.

为什么你欢 喝 咖啡?Wèishénme nǐ xǐhuan hē kāfēi?

Why don’t you like to drink coffee?

明天下雨。Míng tiān huì xià yǔ. 

It won’t rain tomorrow.

As you can see, 不 () can be used to negate any verbs, and it acts as ‘not’ to form negative sentences in Chinese.

Negative in Chinese exception: 没 (méi)

The only exception is that 不 will never be used with the verb to have (有 yǒu). If you want to negate the verb 有 yǒu, you’ll have to use the negation word 没 méi instead. So, 没有 (méi yǒu) means ‘there isn't’ or ‘don't have.’ There are more rules with 不 vs. 没 méi, so here is a video:

8 rules to know between 不(bù) vs. 没 (méi) | Yimin Chinese艺敏中文

For example, it’s correct to say “我时间” Wǒ méiyǒu shíjiān (I don’t have time) but not “我 不有时间” Wǒ bù yǒu shíjiān.

2. To negate adjectives

不 bù is also used to negate adjectives the same way as verbs. Here’s the structure:

Subject + 不 + Adjective

Check out some examples:


English translation

饿。 è.

I’m not hungry.

这个贵。Zhège guì.

This is not expensive.

公司大。Gōngsī dà.

The company is not big.

老板今天很高兴。Lǎobǎn jīntiān hěn bù gāoxìng.

The boss is very unhappy today.

他以前胖。Tā yǐ qián bú pàng.

He wasn’t chubby like before.

3. To negate habitual actions

Habitual actions are things someone does regularly or repeatedly. But there are also actions that we don’t do daily. Here is that grammar structure:

Subject + 不 + Verb

Here are some examples sentences:


English translation

吃早饭。 chī zǎo fàn. 

I don’t eat breakfast.

喜欢喝酒。 xǐ huan hē jiǔ.

He doesn’t like to drink alcohol.

抽烟。 chōu yān. 

I don’t smoke.

Frequently asked questions

How do you say a negative answer in Chinese? 

Normally, negative answers in Chinese use the word "不" () before the verb or adjective. But if you want to say “no [object]” or without, you use the 没 (méi) in front of your object.

What are negation markers in Chinese?

Most commonly, the negation marker in Chinese grammar is "不" () in front of verbs or adjectives to form negative sentences. Another negation marker in Chinese is "没" (méi)

How do the Chinese use a term of negation to negate sentences?

Chinese use 不 to form negative sentences.  It is commonly used to negate a verb in the present or future or to talk about something you don't do regularly as a habit. There is also 没 (méi) that is commonly used together with 有(yǒu) to mean “to not have.”

To conclude

Chinese grammar isn’t that hard to learn.

Knowing the basic sentence structure will get you through a lot of casual conversations in Chinese.

The hardest part of Chinese is learning the amount of hanzi and vocabulary to form these sentences. As such, try using Pandanese to grow your Chinese vocabulary easily with mnemonics and the Spaced Repetition System (SRS). Together, you will review more difficult Chinese words rather than ones you’ve already known. Check it out!

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