A major aspect of learning a language: what does the Chinese sentence structure looks like? Very similar to English, you’ll still have to know a couple of things to get going.
Beginner Level Grammar: The Difference Between 不 and 没
In Chinese learning, you may see “不” and “没” very often.
Many learners get confused with these two characters because both of them have the meaning “not” as a negation word in English, but they are used quite differently.
In this article, we will cover all usages of 不 and 没, so by the end, you’ll become a master at using negative sentences!
If you haven’t yet been introduced to the character 不, check out our quick guide here.
Chapter #1 – Declarative Sentences
Chapter #2 – Interrogative Sentences
Chapter #3 – 不、没 with 是、有、在
Chapter #4 – Making Comparisons with 不 and 没
Chapter #5 – Collocations of 不 and 没
Chapter #6 – 不 and 没 expressing affirmative
Chapter #7 – FAQ’s
不 or 没 – Declarative Sentences
不 (bù) in Declarative Sentences
不 (bù) Negates present actions
不 (bù) shows that an activity isn’t happening. It’s used to oppose an action you do not want to do.
Subject + 不 + Verb
- nǐ chī zǎowǎn ma?
- Do you eat breakfast?
- wǒ bù chī.
- No I don’t.
不 (bù) Negates habitual actions
不 (bù) can be used to oppose habitual actions, which indicates something you are not used to doing.
Subject + 不 + Verb + Object
- wǒ bù chī ròu
- I don’t eat meat.
- nǐmen dōu bù hējiǔ ma
- Don’t you all drink alcohol?
不 (bù) Negates future actions
不 (bù) is used to negate an action that you do not intend to do.
Subject + 不 + Verb
- lǎobǎn míngtiān bù lái.
- The boss won’t come tomorrow.
- wǒ zhīdào zhège zhōumò bùxià yǔ
- I know it won’t rain this weekend.
没 (méi) in Declarative Sentences
没 (méi) Negates Past Actions (can be replaced by 没有）
没 (méi) is used to refute/deny actions that occurred in the past.
Subject + 没 + Verb + Object
- wǒ zuótiān méi hējiǔ.
- I didn’t drink alcohol yesterday
- tā zuótiān méi dǎ diànhuà gěi wǒ
- He didn’t call me yesterday.
没 (méi) can say something has not happened yet
Subject + 没 + Verb + Object
- tāmen chī wán fàn yǐhòu méi fù qián
- They didn’t pay after eating.
- māmā méi zuò wǎnfàn
- Mom didn’t cook dinner.
没 (méi) can use to indicate something has not been experienced
“过” has to be used after the verb.
Subject + 没 + Verb + 过 + Object
- wǒ méi chīguò zhōngguó cài
- I have never eaten Chinese food
Subject + (从来) 没 + 去 + 过 + place
- wǒ (cónglái) méi qùguò zhōngguó
- I have never (ever) been to China
- 我不吃早饭。wǒ bù chī zǎofàn.
- 我没吃早饭。wǒ méi chī zǎofàn
When using 不(bù), it means that you normally “do not” eat breakfast.
When using 没(méi), however, the meaning changes to saying you “did not” eat breakfast, implying that you’re talking about “what you did not do today”.
我没喝酒。(negate past actions)
BONUS: 不 + adjective
不 (bù) is used with adjectives. When it comes to a simple negation of an adjective, use 不 (bù).
Subject + 不 + Adjective
- wǒ bù è
- I am not hungry.
- nǐ bù pàng
- You are not fat.
- jīntiān bù lěng
- It is not cold today.
The negation of adjectives is generally used “不”, but sometimes you can hear 没 + adjective, which implies that the state has not changed.
- wǒ bù pàng
- I am not fat.
- wǒ méi pàng
- I have not gained weight.
不 or 没 – Interrogative Sentences
Question with 没 (méi)
As mentioned previously, 没 is used with the past tense, as well as to describe that something has not yet been experienced or didn’t happen yet.
Subject + Verb + 没 + Verb + Obj？
- zuótiān nǐ chī méi chī sìchuān cài?
- Did you eat Sichuan food yesterday?
- shàng gè yuè nǐmen qù méi qù lǚyóu?
- Did you go travel last month?
Subject + Verb + 没 + Verb + 过 + Object？
- nǐ chī méi chīguò zhōngguó cài?
- Have you ever tried Chinese food?
Subject + 去 + 没 + 去 + 过 + place？
- nǐ qù méi qùguò zhōngguó?
- Have you ever been to China?
Question with 不 (bù)
As mentioned previously, 不 is used for present or habit actions, or future actions. It is the same in the interrogative form:
Subject + Verb + 不 + Verb + Object？
- nǐ chī bù chī sìchuān cài
- Do you eat Sichuan food?
- Present or habit actions
- nǐmen zhōumò shàng bù shàngbān
- Will you go to work this weekend?
- Future actions
不 (bù) can also be used to form tag questions.
Sentence，好+不+好 / 对+不+对？
- wǒmen qù chīfàn, hǎo bù hǎo?
- Let’s go to dinner, ok?
Tag questions are used to seek approval or acceptance for a statement, very similar to the English “OK?” or “right?”
You can’t use 没 (méi) for this.
Chinese Grammar – 不、没 and 是、有、在
Only 不 (bù) negates 是 (shì)
不 (bù) can be used to reverse the verb 是 (shì), which is the word for ‘to be’ changing the meaning “to not be”.
Subject + 不 + 是 + predictive
- wǒ bùshì yīshēng
- I am not a doctor
- wǒ yǐqián bùshì lǎoshī
- I was not a teacher before
- jīntiān bùshì xīngqí yī
- Today is not Monday
- zuótiān bùshì 8 yuè 15 hào
- Yesterday was not August 15th
Only 没 (méi) negates 有 (yǒu)
没 (méi) can be used to negate the verb 有 (yǒu) (to have) to mean “do not have”.
Subject + 没 + 有 + Object
- wǒ méiyǒu shū.
- I don’t have books.
- wǒ méiyǒu nǚ péngyǒu.
- I don’t have a girlfriend.
Both 不 (bù) and 没 (méi) can negate 在 (zài)
And they have the same meaning (to be in/at)!
zuótiān wǒ méi zàijiā = zuótiān wǒ bù zàijiā.I was not home yesterday.
Note: “没有 + verb + Object” and “没 + 有 + Object”
- Subject + 没有 + Verb + Object
- wǒ méiyǒu hējiǔ.
- I didn’t drink wine yesterday.
- 没有 = 没
- Subject + 没 + 有 + Object
- wǒ méiyǒu jiǔ.
- I don’t have wine.
- 没 + 有 (verb)
In the above example, “有” can be omitted and the meaning doesn’t change.
- 我没有喝酒。= 我没喝酒。
- wǒ méiyǒu hējiǔ = wǒ méi hējiǔ.
- 我没有酒。= 我没酒。
- wǒ méiyǒu jiǔ.= wǒ méi jiǔ.
Making Comparisons with 不 and 没
不 (bù) can be used to make simple comparisons such as “not as… as…”:
Noun 1 + 不比 / 不如 + Noun 2 + Adjective
- wǒ de shǒujī bùbǐ tā de shǒujī guì.
- My phone is not as expensive as his phone.
- wǒ de shū bùrú tā de shū duō.
- My books are not as many as his.
没 (méi) or 没有 (méiyǒu) can also be used to make simple comparisons such as “not as… as…”:
Noun 1 + 没有 + Noun 2 + Adjective
- nǐ méiyǒu wǒ gāo.
- You are not as tall as me.
- shànghǎi de dōngtiān méiyǒu běijīng de dōngtiān lěng.
- The winter in Shanghai is not as cold as the winter in Beijing.
Collocations of 不 and 没
It’s best to accumulate these one by one.
- 没办法 (méi bànfǎ) : there is no way.
- 我没办法。= 我没有办法。I don’t have a way.
- 不知道 (bù zhīdào)：don’t know
- 不认识 (bù rènshi)：don’t know (a person)
- 我不知道他要来 (wǒ bù zhīdào tā yào lái): I didn’t know he was coming.
- 他小时候不认识她 (tā xiǎoshíhòu bù rènshí tā): He did not know her when he was young.
When we use 可不 or 可不是 as an independent expression, even with negative word 不, it means “Exactly!”.
- dìtiě shàng de rén zhēn duō!
- There are so many people on the subway!
- B：可不 (是) !
- kěbù (shì)!
- That’s so true!
不 and 没 expressing affirmative
不 and 没 usually indicate negative expressions, which makes it confusing, since they can also represent affirmative expressions.
好容易 and 好不容易 (very easy and very not easy)
容易 (rónɡyì) means “easy”, and 好 (hǎo) here is used as an adverb which means “very“.
In this sense, these two phrases are expressing two opposite meanings. However, they are both used before verbs to indicate how difficult it is to do something.
I finally passed the HSK test for level 6:
- 我好容易通过了HSK六级考试。(wǒ hǎo rónɡyì tōnɡɡuòle liùjí kǎoshì.)
- 我好不容易通过了HSK六级考试。(wǒ hǎo bù rónɡyì tōnɡɡuòle liùjí kǎoshì.)
We finally climbed to the mountain top:
- 我们好容易爬到了山顶。(wǒmen hǎo rónɡyì pá dàole shāndǐnɡ.)
- 我们好不容易爬到了山顶。(wǒmen hǎo bù rónɡyì pá dàole shāndǐnɡ.)
差点 and 差点没 (almost and almost not)
When they are followed by things that people want to happen, both 差点 (chàdiǎn) and 差点没 (chàdiǎn méi) express the opposite meanings for the following verbs.
差点: negative ≠ 差点没: affirmative
I almost passed the HSK test for level 6: 我差点通过了HSK六级考试。(wǒ chàdiǎn tōnɡɡuòle liùjí kǎoshì.)
Even though there’s no negative word in this example, it still means “I didn’t pass the test”.
I just barely passed the HSK test for level 6. 我差点没通过HSK六级考试. (wǒ chàdiǎn méi tōnɡɡuò liùjí kǎoshì.)
There’s a negative word 没 in this example, but it means “I passed the test”.
When they are followed by things that people don’t want to happen, both 差点 (chàdiǎn) and 差点没 (chàdiǎn méi) mean that thing didn’t happen.
差点 = 差点没: negative
I almost broke the cup:
- 我差点摔坏了杯子。(wǒ chàdiǎn shuāihuàile bēizi.)
- 我差点没摔坏杯子。(wǒ chàdiǎn méi shuāihuài bēizi.)
Both sentences mean “I didn’t break the cup”.
My wallet almost got stolen:
- 我的钱包差点被偷了。(wǒde qiánbāo chàdiǎn bèi tōule.)
- 我的钱包差点没被偷。(wǒde qiánbāo chàdiǎn méi bèi tōu.)
Both sentences mean “My wallet wasn’t stolen”.
How extensive was that article?! You now know everything you need, and more, about the difference between 不 and 没.
If you haven’t checked our other articles about Chinese negation, read it now.
What other Chinese grammar would you like us to cover? Comment your suggestions below 👇
Difference between 不 and 没 – FAQ’s
What is the difference between 不 and 没?
The main difference between 不 and 没 is that 不 is used for present and future sentences.
没 is solely used for sentences written in the past tense.
Both characters have many uses, check out our full article for more explanation and sentence examples.
What is the pinyin of 不 and 没?
不 is pronounced bù.
没 is pronounced méi.
Do you know about the Chinese tones? Read this super helpful guide to remember them FOREVER.
How to use 不?
不 has lots of different uses, here are the main ones, check out our article for more explanations.
1) 不 (bù) Negates present actions: Subject + 不 + Verb
2) 不 (bù) Negates habitual actions: Subject + 不 + Verb + Object
3) 不 (bù) Negates future actions: Subject + 不 + Verb
4) 不 (bù) is used with adjectives: Subject + 不 + Adjective
5) Question with 不 (bù): Subject + Verb + 不 + Verb + Object？
How to use 没?
Just like 不, 没 can be used in various situations, even though only used in the past tense. Here are some of the main structures:
1) 没 / 没有 Negates Past Actions: Subject + 没 + Verb + Object
2) 没 (méi) can say something has not happened yet: Subject + 没 + Verb + Object
3) 没 (méi) can use to indicate something has not been experienced: Subject + 没 + Verb + 过 + Object
4) Question with 没: Subject + Verb + 没 + Verb + Obj？
What are some examples of the 不 and 没 structures?
– 我不吃肉。wǒ bù chī ròu. I don’t eat meat.
– 老板明天不来。lǎobǎn míngtiān bù lái. The boss won’t come tomorrow.
– 你们周末上不上班？nǐmen zhōumò shàng bù shàngbān. Will you go to work this weekend?
– 我昨天没喝酒。wǒ zuótiān méi hējiǔ. I didn’t drink alcohol yesterday
– 妈妈没做晚饭。māmā méi zuò wǎnfàn. Mom didn’t cook dinner.
– 你吃没吃过中国菜？ nǐ chī méi chīguò zhōngguó cài? Have you ever tried Chinese food?
How to learn Chinese grammar?
Just like for any other language, start with the basics.
First of all, Chinese is a SVO language (Subject – Verb – Object), like many European languages and English. Add to that a negation word or a question word, and you can now express yourself in a lot of new different ways!
Take it slow and nail the basics down before learning more complex sentences. 加油！