The Difference between 不(bù) and 没(méi) in Chinese

不() and 没(méi) are two simple yet important Chinese negation words that most beginner students may confuse. Both of these two words can be followed by verbs and adjectives. In fact, they have different meanings and cannot be interchangeable. The mixed use of  不() and 没(méi) is one of the common mistakes made by Chinese learners. No worries! In this post, we explain how to use 不() and 没(méi) and differentiate between them clearly.

Before we begin, let’s look at a few examples and try to understand how 不() and 没(méi) are used.

去北京。

Wǒ bú qù Běijīng.

I’m not going to Beijing. 

去北京。

Wǒ méi qù Běijīng.

I didn’t go to Beijing.


瘦。

Tā bú shòu.

He isn’t thin.

瘦。

Tā méi shòu.

He didn’t lose weight.

After reading these examples, you may know something, but you may not sure about it. Then let’s move on.

1. About the implication

The main difference between 没(méi) and 不() is:

没(méi) negates objective facts and is mostly used in the past and the present tenses.

不() negates subjective wills and feelings and can be used in the past, present and future tenses.

For example:

她昨天来学校。(in the past)

Tā zuótiān méi lái xuéxiào.

She didn’t come to school yesterday.

这个手机坏。(in the present)

Zhège shǒujī méi huài.

This cell phone is not broken.


我昨天舒服,所以请假了。(in the past)

Wǒ zuótiān bù shūfu, suǒyǐ qǐngjià le.

I didn’t feel well yesterday, so I asked for leave.

我现在饿。(in the present)

Wǒ xiànzài bú è.

I’m not hungry now.

我明天去学校。(in the future)

Wǒ míngtiān bú qù xuéxiào.

I won’t go to school tomorrow.

 

What’s more,  不() is also used to negate a habitual action.

For example:

他吃素,不吃肉。

Tā chī sù, bù chī ròu.

He is a vegetarian and he does not eat meat.

他不抽烟,不喝酒。

Tā bù chōu yān, bù hē jiǔ.

He doesn’t smoke or drink.

2. About the following words

没/不 + modal verbs or psych verbs

没(méi) can only go with a few modal verbs and psych verbs, such as 能(néng), 敢(gǎn), 想(xiǎng)” and so on. It’s always used in the past events.

不() can go with all modal verbs and psych verbs. It can be used in the past, present and the future events.

For example:

能帮他。

Wǒ méi néng bāng tā.  

I couldn’t help him.

敢进去。

Wǒ méi gǎn jìnqu.

I didn’t dare to go in.

想帮他。

Wǒ méi xiǎng bāng tā.

I’m not trying to help him.


会开车。

Tā bú huì kāi chē.

She can’t drive.

喜欢看电视。

Wǒ bù xǐhuan kàn diànshì.

I don’t like watching TV.

我今天想吃披萨。

Wǒ jīntiān bù xiǎng chī pīsà.

I don’t want to eat pizza today.

应该喝太多。

Nǐ bù yīnggāi hē tài duō. 

You shouldn’t drink too much.

没有(méiyǒu)  & 不是(bú shì)

To negate the verb 有(yǒu), you can only use 没(méi); To negate the verb 是(shì), you can only use 不().

For example:

没有哥哥。

Wǒ méi yǒu gēge.

I don’t have a brother.

房子里没有人。

Fáng zi li méi yǒu rén.

There is no one in this house.

桌子上没有书。

Zhuōzi shang méi yǒu shū.

There is no book on the table.


不是学生,我是老师。

Wǒ bú shì xuésheng, wǒ shì lǎoshī.

I’m not a student. I’m a teacher.

不是美国人,他是英国人。

Tā bú shì Měiguó rén, tā shì Yīngguó rén.

He is not American. He is English.

 

没/不 + adjectives

“没(méi)” can only be used with a few adjectives to negate the change of a situation.

For example:

她的病还没好。

Tā de bìng hái méi hǎo.      

She is not well yet.

好久不见,你没胖也没瘦,还是以前那样。

Hǎojiǔbújiàn, nǐ méi pàng yě méi shòu, háishì yǐqián nàyàng.

I haven’t seen you for a long time. You look the same as before, neither gain or lose weight.

不() can be used with most adjectives to negate the state of somebody or something.

For example:

他的弟弟高。

Tā de dìdi bù gāo. 

His brother is not tall.

这个包好看.

 Zhège bāo bù hǎokàn.

This bag is not good-looking.

没 + Noun

没(méi) can be followed by a noun to indicate 没有(méi yǒu). But 不() can’t be followed by a noun.

For example:

钱买新手机。

Tā méi qián mǎi xīn shǒujī.

He has no money for a new cell phone.

咖啡店里酒,只有咖啡。

Kāfēi diàn li méi jiǔ, zhǐyǒu kāfēi.

There’s no wine in the coffee shop, just coffee.

没关系(méi guānxi)  & 不客气(bú kèqi)

没关系(méi guānxi)  and 不客气 (bù kèqi) are common phrases of polite expression. They are used in response to an apology and a thank you respectively. Here, 不() and 没(méi) can not be interchangeable in those tow expressions.

For example:

A: 对不起。

Duìbuqǐ.

I’m sorry.

B: 关系。

Méi guānxi. 

Never mind.


A: 谢谢!

Xièxie!

Thank you!

B: 客气。

Bú kèqi.

You’re welcome.

Conclusion

This is our summary of the difference between 不() and 没(méi) in Chinese. It can help you know how to use bu and mei in Chinese more properly. However, it is not enough to read an article to learn a language. To master the usage of  不() and 没(méi)  skillfully, you need to apply it to life. If you like this post, don’t forget to share it with your friends for common progress. For more questions, please leave them in the comment section.


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