How is 不用谢 (= Bù yòng xiè) understood by Chinese speakers?

Of course不用谢 “Bù yòng xiè” is one of the earliest Chinese expressions any foreign learner is asked to learn, and that it is used to politely reject thanks and approximately equivalent to English “you do not have to say thanks/thank me” is easy enough to understand. However, HOW native Chinese speakers understand “Bù yòng xiè” is NOT so clear, and that is what I would like somebody here to explain to me in detail. Let me describe the problem:

Since (= “xiè”) may be a verb (= “to thank”), but also a noun (= “thanks”, e.g., in 多谢 duo1 xiè” = “many thanks”), and the verb (= “yòng”) can take as a complement either a verb or a noun (phrase), the sentence 不用谢 (=“bù yòng xiè”) is structurally and semantically ambiguous. The source of the ambiguity is twofold: the lack of an explicit subject and the category ambiguity of (as either a verb or a noun, as stated).

There is no question that a subject is omitted in 不用谢 (and whether a complement /我们is also omitted depends on whether “xiè” is transitive or not), but the identity of the omitted subject is NOT obvious, and that is the main source of ambiguity. There are two possibilities:

The first, A, is this: If the omitted subject is a 2nd person pronoun //你们, then xiè” must be a verb (= “to thank”) and the approximate English translation must be either “you do not need to thank”, if   “xiè” is intransitive, or “you do not need to thank me/us”, if “xiè” is transitive and its object is also omitted.  Note that interpreting “xiè” as a noun in that case yields an incoherent meaning: “*You do not need thanks”. Of course, it is not the addressee that deserves and is in a position to reject the speakers’ thanks, but the speaker, who may politely reject them!

However, the omitted subject need not be a second person pronoun. There is a second possibility, B: In context, the implicit subject might be a nominal like “My intervention in your favour” or, in general, “What I have done for you”, and in that case the sentence “Bù yòng xiè” would really mean to Chinese speakers “What I have done for you does not require thanks”. Note that in that case “xiè” must be a noun, not a verb, since the verb “xiè” (= to thank) would require an implicit human subject and “What I have done for you” does not qualify as such.

QUESTION: How do you, native Chinese speakers, interpret不用谢? As in A, with “//你们” as an implicit subject and “” as a verb (and transitive or intransitive?), or as in B, with an implicit subject similar in meaning to “What I have done for you” and “” as a noun acting as the direct object of “”?

This matters to me because I want to understand Chinese ‘from inside’, so to speak. Mere 'contextual equivalence' (what bilingual Chinese-English dictionaries offer, if one is lucky) is NOT enough for a proper understanding of what speakers of Chinese really mean and say, and not understanding what natives think and say sooner or later leads learners to make mistakes which I myself would prefer to avoid from the start.

Thank you in advance :-)!

Views: 2230

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Very interesting, that elliptical use of "bié". Thank you very much!


sigh! my language is so difficult! 

All languages are, in different ways. Actually, the issue discussed in this thread is an elementary and 'easy' one. After all, many languages allow contextually determined subject and object ellipsis. The only 'difficulty' is that mere translation into English is a very misleading cue as to what Mandarin is actually 'saying', and both language textbooks and bilingual dictionaries tend to content themselves with offering approximate translation equivalents instead of accurate word-by-word glosses. That makes Mandarin "ni3 hao3" and English "Hello", for example, seem 'equivalent' :-)! [Of course, that is a preposterous idea; they may be used in partly similar situations, but that's it; they do not 'say' the same at all!]

The really 'deep' issues separating Mandarin from, say, English are of a different kind, as far as I can see. For example, at the elementary level currently accessible to me, why Mandarin has two propositional negation words, "bù" and "méi", whereas European languages do not, seems a much more intriguing matter, and I suspect what is at stake is no less than a sharply different ontological view of situations/events, a topic for a new thread, perhaps.

In general, leaving the Chinese writing system, which IS a formidable barrier, aside, Mandarin does not seem to me any more difficult than any of the other great languages of the world (English, Spanish, Arabic, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, Greek...). What does happen is that the grammars and dictionaries of Chinese currently available in English and other European languages are rather primitive in comparison with those available for the European languages themselves.

I agree. That's why this field attracts me, i can see there are actually still a lot to do.  sometimes i feel confiden by thinking i can do better others but when i see the real problems i realize i'm still too far from building up my own system.

Would you please recommend some books or articals to me on word categorizing, and what are the drives behind language? 

Thanks a lot.

Since your two questions are too big and do no longer really fit in the present thread, I answer in a private message. The forum moderators have already been much too patient with me!

I personally think that Mandarin is not difficult to learn, just follow Chinese way.

After the "Vernacular Movement" in China, the grammar rules of ancient Chinese been changed as baiscally same as English. Mandarin was set up based on this. I think this is the reasen that Mandarin is not difficult to you, leaving the writing system.

In Chinese, the character is the most basic function unit with definition, as the English word.

Chinese characters defined as the foundation of Chinese expressions, from large scale to small scale. they described one or more kinds of situations/events associated with. Unlike English words.

Thank you so much, Thomas. You have just added an important fact: if natives informally use "búxiè" as equivalent to "bú yòng xiè", there is no doubt that they interpret "xiè" as a verb, which means that my second analysis can be safely discarded. All the evidence that has emerged from this discussion points in the same direction: the elliptical subject of "bú (yòng) xiè" is a second person pronominal.

Thanks! :-)


My pleasure, :-). You are welcome.

For what it's worth, I tend to think of it as "Don't mention it"


Certified Online Chinese Teacher

Recommended Live Chinese Class

Mandarin tutor on skype

mandarin tutor on skype

Popular School in China

Try I Love Learning Chinese

Sponsored Links

© 2020   Learn Chinese Online at Study More Chinese, created by Brandon. Contact us for links & advertising.

StudyMoreChinese on Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Google Plus  |  LinkedIN   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service