Lesson 3: Understanding the Difference Between「不」Bù and「没」Méi – Chinese No or Not

Office Space

Both 不 (bù) and 没(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 ‘no’ or ‘not’ in English, there are notable differences between them. Learn how to express yes in Chinese as well.

 

1.「没」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


我不喜欢吃面。

Wǒ bù xǐhuān chī miàn.

I do not like to eat noodles.

 

Future


他明天不上班。

Tā míngtiān bù shàngbān.

He will not go to work tomorrow.

 

Past

昨天没下雨。

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


他不高。

Tā bù gāo.

He is not tall.

 

3. Only Use「没」for Nouns!

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

Structure: Subject + 没有/没 + Noun


我没有时间。

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:


她不是美国人。

Tā bùshì měiguó rén.

She is not an American.


我昨天不在印尼。

Wǒ zuótiān bùzài yìnní.

I was not in Indonesia yesterday.

 


我不知道她叫什么名字。

Wǒ bù zhīdào tā jiào shénme míngzì.

I don’t know what her name is.