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没有 and 不: Understanding the Two Ways to Say ‘No’ in Chinese

Learning a new language can be exciting, but it can also be challenging. One skill that’s particularly important to master is the ability to say ‘no’. However, in Mandarin Chinese, saying ‘no’ is not as simple as in other languages.

Chinese has two ways to express negation: 没有 (méiyŏu) and 不 (bù).

The pronunciation of 没有 (méiyŏu) remains the same no matter the context, but the 有 (yŏu) is commonly left out in casual conversation. Conversely, 不 “bù” changes to “bú” when followed by a fourth-tone character. Thankfully, the rules for when to use each of them are quite straightforward.

1. To start, always remember that 没有 (méiyŏu) cannot be used with 是 (shì). This rule is consistent, so just memorize and apply it.

For example:

今天不是一月一号。(Jīntiān búshì yī yuè yī hào.)
Today is not January 1.

我妹妹不是十岁。(Wǒ mèimei búshì shí suì.)
My younger sister is not 10 years old.

2. 不 (bù) is used for present tense, future tense, and habitual activities. Words related to time, like today, tomorrow, next week, usually or regularly, can indicate the intended meaning.

For example:

他现在不在。 (Tā xiànzài búzài.)
He’s not home now.

我不喝酒。 (Wǒ bù hējiǔ.)
I don’t drink (as a habit, in general).

3. To talk about the past, use 没有 (méiyŏu) Time words like yesterday, last month, or last year indicate when something did not happen. This also applies to perfect tenses, such as “I have never been to Beijing” or “He hasn’t eaten Dim sum recently.”

For example:

我没有去。(Wǒ méiyǒu qù.)
I didn’t go; I haven’t gone.

昨天我没有上课。(Zuótiān wǒ méiyǒu shàngkè.)
I didn’t go to class yesterday.

4. The word “有” (yŏu) in Chinese means “have”. Therefore, “没有” (méiyŏu) means “not have”.

For example:

我没有钱。(Wǒ méiyǒu qián.)
I don’t have money.

他没有时间。(Tā méiyǒu shíjiān.)
He doesn’t have time.

5. In spoken Chinese, people often use the shortened form 没 (méi) instead of 没有(méiyŏu).

For example:

我没去过长城。(Wǒ méi qùguò chángchéng.)
I haven’t been to the Great Wall.

我没汽车。(Wǒ méi qìchē.)
I don’t have a car.

Learning how to say ‘no’ in Mandarin Chinese is a fundamental skill that requires some effort to master. While there are two ways to say ‘no’ in Chinese, 没有 (méiyŏu) and 不 (bù), understanding the rules for when to use each one is actually quite simple.

没有 (méiyŏu) is used when talking about the past and means “not have,” while 不 (bù) is used for the present and future tense as well as habitual activities.

Remembering that 没 (méi) is a short form of 没有 (méiyŏu) and that 有 (yŏu) by itself means “have” will help you use these negative words accurately.

With practice, saying ‘no’ in Mandarin Chinese will soon become second nature.

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