negation with 不 bù

Chinese Negation: How to Use 不 Bù to Form Negative Sentences

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Before going into specific grammar lessons in this series, you might want to check out the overview of Chinese grammar:

In today’s article, we’ll walk you through one basic Chinese grammar point that every beginner of Chinese should know: negation with bù.

Introduction bù 

bù, which means “not” in Mandarin Chinese, is a negation word. It’s one of the most basic grammar points you’ll encounter when you start learning Chinese. 

bù is commonly used to negate a verb in the present or future or to talk about something you don’t do regularly as a habit. Continue reading to learn how to use it.

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How to use

1. To negate verbs

Almost all verbs can be negated with bù. However, this construction is only used for present or present actions. To negate a verb, simply place bù before it:

Subject + 不 + Verb + Object

Here are some examples:

ChineseEnglish translation
他们 不 是 坏 孩子。Tāmen bù shì huài háizi.They are not bad kids.
我 今天 不 想 工作。Wǒ jīntiān bù xiǎng gōngzuò.I don’t want to work today.
不去了。Tā bú qù le. She isn’t going anymore.
为什么 你 不 喜欢 喝 咖啡?Wèishénme nǐ bù xǐhuan hē kāfēi?Why don’t you like to drink coffee?
明天不会下雨。Míng tiān bú huì xià yǔIt won’t rain tomorrow.

As you can see from those examples listed above,  bù can be used to negate basically any verbs, such as 不是 bú shì, 不去 bú qù, 不 想 bù xiǎng. The only exception is that bù will never be used with yǒu. If you want to negate the verb yǒu, you’ll have to use the negation word méi instead. 

For example, it’s correct to say “我 没有时间” Wǒ méiyǒu shíjiān (I don’t have time) but not “我 不有时间” Wǒ bù yǒu shíjiān.

2. To negate adjectives

bù is used to negate adjectives the same way as verbs. Here’s the structure:

Subject + 不 + Adjective

Check out some examples:

ChineseEnglish translation
不 饿。Wǒ bù è.I’m not hungry.
这 个 不 贵。Zhège bù guì.This is not expensive.
公司 不 大。Gōngsī bù dà.The company is not big.
老板 今天 很 不 高兴。Lǎobǎn jīntiān hěn bù gāoxìng .The boss is very unhappy today.
他以前不胖。Tā yǐ qián bú pàng.He wasn’t chubby like before.

3. To negate habitual actions

Other than negating verbs and adjectives in general, use bù when talking about things you usually don’t do. 

ChineseEnglish translation
不吃早饭。Wǒ bù chī zǎo fàn. I don’t eat breakfast.
不喜欢喝酒。Tā bù xǐ huan hē jiǔ.He doesn’t like to drink alcohol.
不抽烟。Wǒ bù chōu yān. I don’t smoke.

Chinese grammar is not that hard!

Although there is a tonne of Chinese characters and they can be difficult to learn (compared to English words), Chinese grammar points are quite straightforward to understand.

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