In this article, you will learn the two most common words that can be translated to “no, not” in Chinese, “没 mei” and “不 bu,” and when to use each of them properly. Bu in Chinese is “不.” This must be one of the very first words you will learn in Chinese. But do we always use “不 bù” to negate a sentence? Since both of them mean “no, not,” are they interchangeable? Let’s find out!
"不 bù" and "没 méi"
Even though both words “不 bù” and “没 méi” mean “no, not,” they are NOT interchangeable. So, when should you use “不 bù?”
And when do you use “没 méi?”
OK. So, by now you may have a general idea of when to use which one. We are now going into detail and will give you some examples.
When to Use 不 bù
This is easy to understand. If an action that will NOT happen in the future or is NOT happening at the moment, then we use “不 bù.”
我 明天 不 去 学校。Wǒ míngtiān bù qù xuéxiào. (Future action)
I am not going to school tomorrow.
(The statement sentence is 我 明天去学校。Wǒ míngtiān qù xuéxiào. Simply adding “不 bù” right before the verb to negate the action.)
他 现在 不 想 吃东西。Tā xiànzài bùxiǎng chī dōngxī. (Present action)
He doesn’t want to eat now.
If you would like to state you do not have a certain habit, use “不 bù.”
我 不喜欢 喝 咖啡。Wǒ bù xǐhuān hē kāfēi.
I don’t like drinking coffee.
(Drinking coffee is a habit. If you do not like, or do not have, this habit, you use “不 bù” to express it.)
你 平常 不 看电视 吗？ Nǐ píngcháng bù kàn diànshì ma?
Don’t you usually watch TV?
(When asking if someone does not have a certain habit, the structure looks like the sentence above.)
It is not only an action that can be negated, we sometimes also negate an adjective. For instance, why is the coffee NOT cold? This pineapple is NOT sweet. Let’s see the examples below:
今年 夏天 不 热。 Jīnnián xiàtiān bù rè.
This summer’s not hot.
(热 rè, hot is the adjective. A side note, This summer does not get translated as 这个夏天 Zhège xiàtiān. It should be translated as “this year summer” “今年夏天”)
我 觉得 这个 杯子 不 好看。 Wǒ juédé zhège bēizi bù hǎokàn.
I think this cup is not pretty.
(好看 hǎokàn, pretty / beautiful is the adjective.)
One common way to form a “yes or no” question sentence in Chinese is to use a verb or adjective plus its negative form. It is similar to when we say, “Do you like this or not?” in English. So “不 bù” is usually the one to be used when asking a yes or no question.
(If you would like to learn more, check out this super easy to understand A-not-A question infographic!)
她 是不是 你的女朋友？ Tā shì búshì nǐ de nǚ péngyǒu?
Is she your girlfriend?
(是 is a verb. Add a 不 before it to form its negative form, which is 不是. Combine them to get 是不是, which is a yes or no question form.)
你 想不想 去 看电影？ Nǐ xiǎng bùxiǎng qù kàn diànyǐng?
Do you want to go watch a movie?
今天外面冷不冷？Jīntiān wàimiàn lěng bù lěng?
Is it cold outside today?
(冷 is an adjective. 冷不冷 makes a yes or no question, which is asking cold or not cold?)
The negative form of the four verbs above always uses “不 bù,” even when the action did not happen in the past, or asking if an action happened in the past, for which we usually use “没 méi.”
我 上个星期 不在 上海，我 去了 西安。Wǒ shàng gè xīngqí bùzài shànghǎi, wǒ qùle xī’ān.
I was not in Shanghai last week. I went to Xi’an.
(Last week is a past tense. We usually use “没 méi” to negate an action. Since “在 zài” is a special case that we list here. Use “不 bù” to negate it.)
你 以前 不是 一个 老师 吗？Nǐ yǐqián bùshì yīgè lǎoshī ma?
Weren’t you a teacher before?
(Before is also a past tense word. But “是 shì” is also a special case. Use “不 bù” to negate it.)
When to Use 沒 méi
In the following situations you should use “沒,”
我 昨天 晚上 没 睡觉，现在 好累。Wǒ zuótiān wǎnshàng méi shuìjiào, xiànzài hǎo lèi. (Past action)
I didn’t sleep last night. I am so tired now.
(In the same place we place “不 bù” place “没 méi” right in front of the verb, which is “睡觉 shuìjiào, sleeping.” This is an action you did not do in the past. So we use “没 méi” to negate.)
老师：你 没做 你的 功课 吗？ Lǎoshī: Nǐ méi zuò nǐ de gōngkè ma? (Past action)
Teacher: Didn’t you do your homework?
(The teacher assumes you should have finished your homework. But you did not do this action in the past.)
L“有 yǒu” is a special case. You can ONLY and ALWAYS use “没 méi” to negate the word “有 yǒu.” It doesn’t matter if the action happened in the past, or is happening now or in the future. Here is one thing is important to keep in mind that we sometimes omit “有 yǒu.” So that means both “没有 méiyǒu” and “没 méi” refer to “do not have.” See the two examples below.
我没钱买这台电脑。 Wǒ méi qián mǎi zhè tái diànnǎo.
I don’t have money to buy this computer.
他没有弟弟，只有一个哥哥。 Tā méiyǒu dìdì, zhǐyǒu yīgè gēgē.
He doesn’t have any younger brothers, only one older brother.
When making a comparison within two things, we also use “没有 méiyǒu” or “没 méi” which means “is not as … as.” See two examples below.
今年夏天没有去年夏天热。 Jīnnián xiàtiān méiyǒu qùnián xiàtiān rè.
The summer this year is not as hot as last year.
(Here are the two things we compare: this summer and last summer. The Chinese sentence structure is A + 没有 méiyǒu / 没 méi + B + adjective. We have made an infographic for this topic. For more details, check out this: Comparison 比 bi Grammar infographic.)
我觉得咖啡没有茶好喝。 Wǒ juédé kāfēi méiyǒu chá hǎo hē.
I think coffee is not as good as tea.
没 Mei and 不 Bu Practice
Nailed this grammar? We have some practice questions for you. Check out the questions below and find the answers in the infographic below!
1. I did not do my homework.
2. My father does not like hot weather.
3. She will not go to the music concert tomorrow.
4. Didn’t you know him before?
5. He doesn’t have money.
没 Mei and 不 Bu Simplified Chinese Version Infographic
没 Mei and 不 Bu Traditional Chinese Version Infographic
没 Mei and 不 Bu Chinese grammar Video
没 Mei and 不 Bu Can-do checklist
Use the “can-do” list to check if you learned this grammar.
⃞ I can recognize “没 mei” and “不 bu” when people use them in a Chinese conversation.
⃞ I can use “没 mei” and “不 bu” correctly in a Chinese conversation.
⃞ I can write “没 mei” and “不 bu” in pinyin/Chinese characters.
⃞ I can place “没 mei” and “不 bu” correctly in Chinese sentences.