Understanding the Difference Between「不」Bù and「沒」Méi in Chinese

Both 不 (bù) and 沒 (méi) are negative determiners in Chinese. They can be put in front of a verb or an adjective, in order to convert the statement into negative statement. Even though these two words are translated as ‘not’ in English, there are notable differences between them.

 

1.「沒」is for Past Actions!

不 (bù) can be used for negating actions in the present, and future, while 沒 (méi) is used for indicating what did not occur in the past, or something that has not completed yet.

Present

喜歡吃麵。

喜欢吃面。

Wǒ bù xǐhuān chī miàn.

I do not like to eat noodles.

 

Future

他明天上班。

他明天上班。

Tā míngtiān bù shàngbān.

He will not go to work tomorrow.

 

Past

昨天下雨。

昨天下雨。

Zuótiān méi xià yǔ.

It did not rain yesterday.

 

2. Only Use「不」for Adjectives!

An additional 不 (bù) before the adjective will give a ‘not + adjective’ meaning. On the other hand, 沒 (méi) does not apply for the adjective.

Structure: Subject + 不 + Adjective

高。

高。

Tā bù gāo.

He is not tall.

 

3. Only Use「沒」for Nouns!

沒有 (méi you), which can be shortened as 沒 (méi), is used for expressing ‘do not have’, ‘there is not’, or ‘there are not’.

Structure: Subject + 沒有/沒 + Noun

有時間。

有时间。

Wǒ méiyǒu shíjiān.

I do not have time.

 

4. Special Cases!

Certain verbs in Chinese can only use 不 (bù) as the negative determiner, regardless of time (past, present, future). For instances:

是美國人。

不是美国人。

Tā bùshì měiguó rén.

She is not an American.

 

我昨天在印尼。

我昨天不在印尼。

Wǒ zuótiān bùzài yìnní.

I was not in Indonesia yesterday.

 

知道她叫什麼名字。

不知道她叫什么名字。

Wǒ bù zhīdào tā jiào shénme míngzì.

I don’t know what her name is.

 

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