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How To Say "No" in Chinese

Hongchen Wu | September 23, 2015 | | 1 Comment
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One question we get asked a lot in our Chinese beginners' classes is, “How do you say “no” in Chinese?” Well, you might be surprised to learn that there is no direct way to say “yes” or “no” in Mandarin. In fact, how to say “no” in Chinese is often dependent on what you are saying “no” to.

The common structure to express "no" or negative meaning is: negation marker + verb.

For example: the answer to a yes-or-no question like "Do you want to go for a walk?" in English can be "No" or "No, I don't.” However, a proper and complete answer in Mandarin Chinese would be "我不想去 (wǒ bù xiǎng qù)” which literally translates as, "I not want to go.”

There are also many ways to indicate tense and express something happened in the past/present/future. That's why we have some alternative negation markers in Mandarin Chinese. Different negation markers can be used in different situations.

Here we’ll make an elaborate introduction on the two most frequently used negation markers in Mandarin Chinese-- "不 (bù) and "没/没有(méi/ méi yǒu.)

不(BÙ):
1. "不" IS USED INDICATE A PERSONAL DECISION AND WILLINGNESS.

他不来了 (tā bù lái le)
Translation: He has decided not to come.
Literal Meaning: He not come.

他不喜欢我。(tā bù xǐ huān wǒ)
Translation: He doesn’t like me.
Literal Meaning: He not like me.

2. “不” IS USED TO INDICATE THE CHANGE OF THE STATE.

火车不走了。(huǒ chē bù zǒu le)
Translation: The train was going before but now it stops.
Literal Meaning: Train not go.

3. "不" IS USED TO GIVE A NEGATIVE JUDGMENT ON A CERTAIN THING.

这个中餐馆不好。(zhè gè zhōng cān guǎn bù hǎo.)
Translation: This Chinese restaurant is not good.
Literal Meaning: This Chinese restaurant not good.

4. "不” IS USED TO NEGATE SENTENCES WITH “是(SHÌ, TO BE)”, INDICATING SOMETHING/ SOMEONE DOESN’T BELONG TO A CERTAIN CATEGORY.

它不是蓝的。(tā bù shì lán de.)
Translation: It isn't blue.
Literal Meaning: it not is blue.

他不是美国人。(tā bù shì měi guó rén.)
Translation: He isn’t American.
Literal Meaning: He not is American.

5. “不” IS USED TO NEGATE SENTENCES WITH “能 (NÉNG, CAN)” OR “可以 (KĚ YǏ, CAN)”, EXPRESSING INABILITY OR PROHIBITION.

你不能在这里吸烟。 (nǐ bù néng zài zhè lǐ xī yān.)
Translation: You can't smoke here.
Literal Meaning: you not can here smoke.

没/没有 (MÉI/ MÉI YǑU.)
1. "没/没有" IS USED TO DESCRIBE SOMETHING HASN’T TAKEN PLACE OR A NEGATIVE FACT. IT MEANS "NOT" OR "NOT HAVE."

他没来. (tā méi lái.)
Translation: He hasn’t come.
Literal Meaning: He not come.

火车没走。(huǒ chē méi zǒu)
Translation: The train is still here. It hasn’t gone yet.
Literal Meaning: The train not go.

2. 没/没有" CAN BE USED TO DESCRIBE THERE IS/ARE NOT HAVE SOMETHING OR SOMEONE DO/DID/DOES NOT HAVE SOMETHING.

我没有钱。(wǒ méi yǒu qián.)
Translation: I do not have money
Literal Meaning: I no have money.

美国没有大熊猫。(měi guó méi yǒu dà xióng māo.)
Translation: There aren’t giant pandas in America.
Literal Meaning: America no have giant pandas.

So far, we've mainly talked about how to say no in Chinese in a declarative sentence. Next, we'll teach you how to respond to some basic "Yes/No" answers in Chinese.

COMMON RULES OF USE:

First, if a sentence starts with “Do/Does/Did you/she/he/it/we/they have...?” or “Have you/she/he/it/we/they...?”, the negative answer usually is “没有”.

For example:
"你有手机吗?” (nǐ yǒu shǒu jī ma?)
“我没有”. (wǒ méi yǒu.)

Translation:
Do you have a cell phone?
I don’t have.

Literal Meaning:
Do you have a cell phone [question marker]?
I no have.

Second, if a sentence starts with “Are/Is/Was/Were you/she/he/we/they/it ···?” or “Are/Is/Was/Were that···?”, the negative answer usually is “不是”.

For example:
“你是英国人吗?” (nǐ shì yīng guó rén ma?)
“我不是”. (wǒ bù shì.)

Translation:
Are you British?
I’m not.

Literal Meaning:
You are British [question marker]?
I no am.

Third, if a sentence is about someone’s willingness, starting with “Do/Does/Did you/she/he/it/we/they want/know/like/need?”, the negative answer usually is “不想(bù xiǎng, don’t want to)”, “不知道(bù zhī dào, don’t know)”, “不喜欢(bù xǐ huān, don’t like)” or “不需要(bù xū yào, don’t need)”, etc.

For Example:
"你想去加州吗?” (nǐ xiǎng qù jiā zhōu ma?)
"我不想”。(wǒ bù xiǎng.)

Translation:
Do you want to go to California?
I don’t want to.

Literal Meaning:
You want to go to California [question marker]?
I not want to.

Fourth, if a sentence is about someone’s ability or asking for permission, it may begin with “Can she/he/it/we/they...?" The answer is usually, "不能," or "[I/You/They] Can't."

For Example:
你能早点来吗?” (nǐ néng zǎo diǎn lái ma?)
对不起,我不能。”(wǒ bù néng.)

Translation:
Can you come earlier?
Sorry. I can’t.

Literal Meaning:
You can earlier come [question marker]?
Sorry. I not can.

This may make Chinese seem a lot more difficult than it really is, but we promise that it’s not that hard! With proper guidance and instruction (and maybe a little help from our Chinese tutors) you’ll be saying “no” like a native in no time!

 

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Hongchen Wu

Hongchen Wu

Hongchen Wu is is a contributing writer at TutorMing. Born in Anhui, China, Hongchen has a B.A in Chinese Language and Literature from Jilin University, and an M.A in Chinese Linguistics from Peking University. She has decided to pursue a doctoral degree in linguistics in the U.S. In her spare time, she likes cooking, hiking, reading, and teaching Chinese to others.

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