I just have started to learn Chinese and wonder how these negations 不, 没 and 否 are used. Please provide examples, translations and if possible, audio.

Thank you in advance.

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否 was mainly used in a question sentence or a formal articles, Somebody ask you a question,if your answer is negative, you best use 不 other than 否, because 否 is not a oral Chinese word, although we Chinese-people can understand. 





如果你回答:“否。” 听起来就有些别扭。


Hello F,

Let me, first of all, warn you that I am also a beginner, and therefore that you must take anything I say here with a pinch of salt (I may well have understood things wrong or only partially), but I was also very intrigued by the existence in Mandarin of TWO different propositional negation words, and perhaps what I found out about this may help you understand what seems to be going on in Chinese, or at least help you ask others the right questions.

Leaving aside "fou", which seems to mean something like "or else", rather than "not" (cf. English "whether" vs. Mandarin "shifou"), the two propositional negation 'words' of Mandarin are nowadays in perfect?/near perfect? complementary distribution (in earlier stages of Chinese, this was NOT so, apparently, and, again, apparently, not all current native speakers of Mandarin observe this rule in a consistent way).

Of course, Mandarin is not the only language in which you can negate a proposition in more than one way (e.g., English, German or French have negative pro-sentences "No", "Nein", "No", and negative ad-verbs/ad-verb phrases "not", "nicht", "ne...pas" (and Mandarin does have its own negative pro-sentences, too, i.e.,"bu4" and mei2you3"), but, as far as I know, Mandarin IS peculiar in that "bu4" and "mei2" respectively negate the existence of two types of NON-facts which are not obviously different from a logical point of view: roughly, "méi" negates PAST non-facts and, surpringly, a very special and unique type of 'present non-facts': those expressed by the stative predicate "you3"(approximately = have/possess, or existential BE), BUT NO OTHER STATIVE PREDICATE, whereas "bu4", in its turn, negates the existence of ALL other non-facts, including all present and future non-facts expressed by stative predicates OTHER than "you3".

From a logical point of view, however, a non-fact (a situation that does/did/will NOT occur) is a non-fact whether its non-occurrence is stated with reference to the past, the present, or the future, and the Western languages I'm familiar with, indeed, make no distinction at all in this respect. So, English will use "not" whether the verb is present, past, future, conditional, ... whatever, German will use "nicht", Spanish will use "no", French "ne... pas", Italian "non", etc. A non-fact is a non-fact, and what 'expresses' it is a declarative sentence with a marked 'polarity' value: negative ("not", "nicht", "no", "non", "ne...pas", ... whatever). From a logical point of view, that's it.

Beyond this point, I cannot really offer anything much. WHY Chinese construes non-facts of the past as different from non-facts of the present/future (and so needs two different propositional negation words, "mei2" and "bu4") is something that, so far, NOBODY has been able to explain to me.

And, furthermore, WHY the stative predicate "you3" (= exist, there is, have?) should be different from ALL other stative predicates (e.g., "xihuan", "renwei", "yuede", "zhidao",....) and  require being negated by "mei2", whereas ALL others can be negated by "bu4", but not by "mei2", is also a mystery. I have asked native speakers about this, but so far nobody has been able to offer a coherent explanation.

So, at bottom, you and me are in the same boat in this respect, :-). I hope somebody in this forum will finally be able to throw a bit of light on what seems to be a fragrant arbitrariness.

Needless to say, all factual corrections of what I have said above will be very welcome, but what I am really interested in is a proper explanation. There must be something 'logical', something in the way Chinese ontology works, that underlies the singularity of past non-facts and situations involving "mei3". Languages are not usually 'arbitrary' in fundamental issues like this.


Leaving aside "fou", which seems to mean something like "or else", rather than "not".


You're wrong, "fou" really means "not",  "or else" in Chinese is“否则".

IF I transtate "否则" into English literally, it means "if not .....then",do u understand?there is a "not" in the translation. "fou" exactly means "not" in Chinese, I promise.



1.Give me the money, or else I'll kill u.

2.If you do not  give me the money,then I'll kill you.

Look the second translation very carefully.“否则" is exactlly means "if not (to do sth), then(sth will happen)".

In chinese 否 is exactly means  "not",negative.

In chinese 则 is exactly means "then", sth will happen succesively.

Take my words, trust me.

Thanks for the factual correction, and, of course, I believe you, I trust your intuitions.

The three bilingual English-Chinese dictionaries I have (standard, and presumably authoritative ones), however, all translate "fou3" as "No", the negative sentence SUBSTITUTE; none of them translates it as "not", the propositional negation under discussion here. Perhaps they are incomplete (dictionaries usually omit much more than they say!), or plain wrong :-)!

Having acknowledged that, the fact that in your first example "or else" ("fou3ze") (similarly: "otherwise" or just "or", for that matter) stand for/entail "if you do NOT give me the money" does NOT imply that "else" (etc.) are intrinsically negative, and the fact that Chinese "fou3" should be approximately equivalent to them, correspondingly, does not entail that "fou3" be intrinsically a propositional negation word, either. Notice that, if we considered "else" negative in your example 1, "then", which is itself a pleonastic substitute for "If you do not give me the money" in your example 2, would also have to be considered a negation word. Obviously, neither is; they simply express alternative states of affairs (in condensed, pro-sentential form); only that, if nothing more specific is offered as an alternative (e.g., "or you give me your Rolex"), the alternative to giving X is NOT giving X. In other words, "else", "then", "otherwise" may be pro-forms of negative sentences (in that case!), but that does not make them propositional negation words. I do not know whether "fou3" must be added to the list of Mandarin propositional negation words "bu4" and "mei2", after all, perhaps you are right and my dictionaries are all wrong, but my point is that its being translatable as "or (else)", etc. is no argument to that effect.

Nevertheless, whether "fou3" is to be added to "bu4" and "mei2(you3)" as a third propositional negation device is NOT the real issue here. The real issue, in my view, is what CAUSES the strange complementary distribution of "bu4" and "mei2", and, if my guess above is right, we should find out a) what (in the Chinese view of the world) makes non-facts of the past different from non-facts of the present or the future, and b) what makes "you3" so different from all other Chinese stative predicates as to call for its being negated with "mei2" instead of "bu4". If we knew that, we would perhaps be in a position to EXPLAIN why "bu4" and "mei2" distribute as they do. Until then, all we can do is learn the brute facts.

Any ideas in those respects?

I have read your replies, but I wonder what are these 1, 2, 3 and 4 after the pinyan? I assume they are the four tones in Mandarin. However, I have never really learned which tone is which one.

I checked on internet:

1--hight, 2-rising, 3-falling rising 4-falling


Now I can understand better the explenations.

(fǒu). Here has a link of Chinese dictionary, you can listen the pronunciation.

And I think, 否 means "not" is more exactly. 否 means someone be not do something almost in Chinese.

否认 (rèn),否定(dìng),否决(júe),否则(zé),是(shì)否,可(kě)否,能(něng)否。


否认 translate as "deny" in English. But in Chinese 否认=不承(chéng)认, so translate 否认 as "do not confess" is right too.


tā fǒu rèn jiǔ hòu jià chē.

He denied drunk driving.

More example:

1. 经理否定了我们的方案。

The manager denied(does not determined) our scheme. 

2. 老板否决了小吴加薪的提议。

The boss rejected Wu raises proposals.

3. 我们是否出发,取决于明天的天气。

Are we set out or not, Depending on the weather tomorrow.

4. 我能否知道你的名字?

May I know your name or not?

5. 我可否留下你的电话号码?

Can I have your telephone number or not?

6. 汝知之否?

Are you understand this or not?

In these sentences 否 can be translate as "not".

The Chinese grammar wiki is a very good reference with loads of examples. Here is the link to the article dealing with 不 vs 没: 


I have checked that site a little and seems easy to understand. I think I will use from now on.

不 is for  subjective judgement or will. “这个苹果不熟”“我不想做这个工作”

没 is for the existence of a thing or a matter. "我没有时间。""我没听懂。" it's not only a matter of tense, like "他再也没有这样的机会了。"is not talking about past.

否 can be used as a verb meaning"deny" or "turn down", like"他把供词都否了。""老板把我的提议否了。"But in most case it has been concreted with other elements into words, such as 否则,否认,否定。and informally, ppl can say 知道否? 喜欢否?in which 否can be directly translated to "or not", as "know or not""like or not", it's like "知道不知道"or“喜欢不喜欢”


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