Beginner Level Grammar: The Negative Form 不 in Chinese

How to use 不? This is one of the first grammar points you’ll see in Chinese, THE basic negative sentence.

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Using might look a bit tricky at first because the structure of the sentence will change dependant of the tense

However, once you get the hang of it, it’ll come to you very naturally and you’ll be able to go on with more complex negative structures.

Chapter #1 – To Negate Adjectives

Chapter #2 – Negation in the Present

Chapter #3 – Negation in the Future

Chapter #4 – 不 as a Negative Command

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First Things First – The Basics

The word 不 bù is always used to negate something.

In some ways, it is one of the closest things Mandarin has to the word “no” in English.

For example, if someone asks you if you are hungry, you can simply say “不 bù” to tell them that no, you aren’t hungry.

HanziPinyin English
你 饿 吗? nǐ è ma?Are you hungry?
No.

Of course, if 不 bù was as easy as “no” in English, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article right now. So, let’s get into it. How does 不 bù actually work?

How to use 不 in Chinese

If you are a beginner, you can start by embracing the overgeneralisation that 不 (bù) applies to any negation in the present or future.

Using 不 – To Negate Adjectives

不 + adj is a common way to say that something is NOT in a certain way.

For example, I have a dog that is…well…kind of stupid. I would say:

Here, we use 不 bù directly before 聪明 cōngming to say that my dog is not smart.

Consider these further examples of 不 being used to say that an object, place, or person is not a certain way (not good looking, not clean, not tall, not comfortable, etc).

  • 这件 衣服 不好看 。
  • zhèjiàn yīfu bùhǎokàn.
  • This clothing is ugly (literally: not good looking).
  • 这个 地方 不 干净 。
  • zhège dìfāng bù gānjìng.
  • This place isn’t clean.
  • 我 最近 身体 不舒服 。
  • wǒ zuìjìn shēntǐ bùshūfu.
  • Recently, I haven’t been feeling well (literally: my body has not felt comfortable)
  • 我 姐姐 不 太 高 , 但是 很 漂亮 。
  • wǒ jiějie bú tài gāo, dànshì hěn piàoliang.
  • My older sister isn’t very tall, but she is very pretty.
  • 这个 地方 夏天 一点儿 也不 热 。
  • zhège dìfāng xiàtiān yìdiǎnr yěbù rè.
  • This place’s summer is not hot at all.
  • 今天 天气 真 不好。
  • jīntiān tiānqì zhēn bùhǎo.
  • Today the weather is really bad.

Using 不 with Verbs – Things You Are NOT Doing in the Present

不 can be paired with verbs to express that they are NOT happening in the present.

This can be about something you are not doing today. For example:

This can be used for anything that is happening in the present. For example, a vegetarian would say:

EXCEPTION – if you want to say something is not yet happening (but will happen), that is when you use 没 méi

Here are a few examples to help you understand the use of 不 with the present tense:

  • 爸爸 今天 不 在家 。
  • bàba jīntiān bú zàijiā.
  • Today dad isn’t home.
  • 他 不是 留学生 。
  • tā búshi liúxuéshēng.
  • He isn’t an exchange student.
  • 我 不会 说 汉语 。
  • wǒ búhuì shuō hànyǔ.
  • I can’t speak Chinese.
  • 她 不 听 妈妈 说 的话。
  • tā bù tīng māma shuō dehuà.
  • She doesn’t listen to what her mom tells her.
  • 现在 不能 开车 。
  • xiànzài bùnéng kāichē.
  • Can’t drive right now.
  • 哥哥 不 常 给 父母 打电话 。
  • gēge bù cháng gěi fùmǔ dǎdiànhuà.
  • My older brother rarely (literally: not often) gives my parents a call.

Using 不 with Verbs – Things You Are NOT Doing in the Future

不 bù can also be used to say that you will not be doing something in the near/far future or that something is not happening in the present.

Future:

TIP – If you are a beginning Chinese learner and you see a word like 明天 míngtiān (tomorrow) or 明年 míngnián (next year), you generally should use 不 bù and not 没 méi.

  • 我 明年 不 去 美国 。
  • wǒ míngnián bú qù měiguó.
  • Next year I won’t go to the US.

👉 Future clue – 明年 míngnián

  • 暑假 我 不想 回国 了 。
  • shǔjià wǒ bùxiǎng huíguó le.
  • I don’t want to go home during summer vacation.

👉 Future clue – 暑假 shǔjià

  • 明天 银行 不 开门 。
  • míngtiān yínháng bù kāimén.
  • Tomorrow the bank isn’t open.

👉 Future clue – 明天 míngtiān

不 as a Command – Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing in the Present

The phrase 不要 búyào is the simplest way to say “don’t” in Mandarin.

For example, a mom might be overheard telling her child:

  • 不要 哭 !
  • búyào kū!
  • Don’t cry!
  • 不要 喝 太多 奶茶 。
  • búyào hē tàiduō nǎichá.
  • Don’t drink too much milk tea.
  • 现在 不要 出去 。
  • xiànzài búyào chūqù.
  • Don’t go out right now.

Culture Connection:

The song “你不是真正的快乐” is a good example of the sentence structure 不 bù + Verb in the present.

It is a song about someone post breakup, and the person singing the lyrics is observing how unhappy they are. But, by the end of the song, they remind the person that they are in fact deserving of true happiness and encourage them to move on from the past and begin their life anew.

不 bù is used in the chorus three times, can you find it?

你 不是 真正 的 快乐
nǐ búshi zhēnzhèng de kuàilè
You aren’t really happy.

你的 笑 只是 你 穿 的 保护色
nǐde xiào zhǐshì nǐ chuān de bǎohùsè
Your smile is just your camouflage.

你 决定 不 恨 了
nǐ juédìng bú hèn le
You certainly don’t hate.

也 决定 不 爱 了
yě juédìng bú ài le
And also certainly don’t love.

把 你的 灵魂 关 在 永远 锁上 的 躯壳
bǎ nǐde línghún guān zài yǒngyuǎn suǒshàng de qūqiào
Locking your soul up forever in the shell of your body

Using in Chinese – FAQ’s

What is ?

The word 不 bù is always used to negate something.

In some ways, it is one of the closest things Mandarin has to the word “no” in English.

What is the pinyin of ?

The pinyin of is .

What is the difference between and 没?

The difference is actually very simple to remember:

不 bù applies to any negation in the present or the future, whereas 没 méi is used for any negation in the past.

How do I use in Chinese?

If you are a beginner, you can start by embracing the overgeneralisation that 不 (bù) applies to any negation in the present or future.

1) 不 + adj is common to say that something is NOT a certain way:

我的 狗 不 聪明, wǒde gǒu bù cōngming – My dog is not smart

2) 不 can be paired with verbs to express that they are NOT happening in the present:

我 不吃 肉, wǒ bùchī ròu – I don’t eat meat.

3) 不 bù can also be used to say that you will not be doing something in the near/far future:

明天 银行 不 开门, míngtiān yínháng bù kāimén – Tomorrow the bank isn’t open.

What other basic Chinese Grammar should I learn?

One of the most basic sentence structure to learn in Chinese is the sentence.

Another basic grammar to study would be concept of measure words, which you’ll see in almost every sentence in Chinese!

What are some examples of the structure?

你 不是 真正 的 快乐, nǐ búshi zhēnzhèng de kuàilè – You aren’t really happy.

我的 狗 不 聪明, wǒde gǒu bù cōngming – My dog is not smart

我 明年 不 去 美国, wǒ míngnián bú qù měiguó – Next year I don’t want to go to the US.

不要 哭 !búyào kū! Don’t cry!

Chinese Grammar Bank

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    Johan Brandal, Student Advisor

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