不 bù VS 没 méi





Most of Chinese learners are confused by “不bù” and “没méi”. They both express negative meanings in sentences. What are their differences? Why “不” sometimes means “no”, but sometimes means “not”? There must be thousands of lions roaring in your heart! This article teaches you 5 rules to distinguish “不bù” and “没méi”.

不 bù VS 没 méi

不 bù VS 没 méi

1. Subjective or Objective?

“没méi” is usually used in an objective statement, whereas “不bù” delivers the subjective will of the speaker. E.g.

Wǒ méi chī miànbāo.

我没吃面包。

I didn’t eat the bread.



VS

Wǒ bù chī miànbāo.

我不吃面包。

I don’t eat bread.



“我没吃面包” indicates the fact that “I didn’t eat the bread, and the bread is still there.” “我不吃面包” indicates that “I don’t like or want to eat bread”. It expresses the individual will of the speaker.

2. Future or Not?

In Chinese, “不bù” negates Verbs or Adjectives in Past, Present and Future sentences. “没méi” can’t negate Verbs or Adjectives in Future, only in the Past and Present sentences. E.g.

不 bù

Zuótiān wǎnshɑnɡ wǒ bù xiǎnɡ kàn diànshì.

昨天晚上我不想看电视。(✔)

I didn’t want to watch TV last night.



Jīntiān wǒ bú shànɡbān.

今天我不上班。(✔)

I don’t work today.



Mínɡtiān wǒ bù dǎ lánqiú.

明天我不打篮球。(✔)

I won’t play basketball tomorrow.



没 méi

Zuótiān wǒ méi qù chāoshì.

昨天我没去超市。(✔)

I didn’t go supermarket yesterday.



Xiànzài wǒ méi kàn diànshì.

现在我没看电视。(✔)

I am not watching TV now.



Mínɡnián wǒ méi qù Běijīnɡ.

明年我没去北京。(✘)

I won’t go to Beijing next year.


According to these examples, we can see “没méi” cannot be used in Future sentences. If you want to negate actions in future, just put “不bù” before the Verbs. So the correct way to say “I won’t go to Beijing next year” is:


Mínɡnián wǒ bú qù Běijīnɡ.

明年我不去北京。(✔)



3. Before Model Verbs

“不bù” can be placed before all of model verbs, but “没méi” can only be placed before certain model verbs such as “能nénɡ”, “能够nénɡɡòu”, “肯kěn”, and “敢ɡǎn”. E.g.

wǒ méinénɡ ànshí huíjiā.

我没能按时回家。

I was unable to get home on time.



wǒ méikěn dāyìnɡ tā.

我没肯答应他。

I didn’t accept his request.



tā méiɡǎn ɡēntā biǎobái.

他没敢跟她表白。

He failed to express his love to her.



4. Habitual Actions or Not?

“不bù” can be used to negate habitual actions, to express what you just aren’t in the habit of doing, such as eating fish, swimming, or drinking alcohol. This is simply done by placing “不bù” in front the verb. However, “没méi” can’t be used in this situation. E.g.

Wǒ bù chī yú.

我不吃鱼。

I don’t eat fish.



Wǒ bù yóuyǒnɡ.

我不游泳。

I don’t swim.



Wǒ bù hējiǔ.

我不喝酒。

I don’t drink alcohol.



5. Only “没méi” Negates “有yǒu”

“没méi” can be used to negate the verb “有yǒu”(to have) which means “do not have”. You can only use “没méi” to convey this meaning. It’s grammatically incorrect to say “不有bù yǒu”. E.g.

Wǒ méiyǒu qián.

我没有钱。(✔)

I don’t have money.




Wǒ bù yǒu shíjiān.

我不有时间。(✘)

I don’t have time.


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