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How to say “no” and “not” in Mandarin Chinese: 不 (bù) or 没 (méi)?

By: Grace Zhang Thu Jan 04 2024

There are two common words used for negation in Mandarin Chinese:  () and  (méi). While both mean “no” or “not,” the two are used in different ways when negating present, future, or past actions:

(, does not, will not)

used when talking about the present and future

(méi, did not)

used when talking about the past


(Tā bù qù kàn diànyǐng.)

He isn’t going to see the movie.


(Tā méi qù kàn diànyǐng.)

He didn’t go to see the movie.

The first example highlights that he isn’t going to the movie. That is, the action will not happen. The second example highlights that he didn’t go to see the movie in the past.

This is the simplest rule for how to use these words, but there are other structures where you cannot use either  () or  (méi).

You want to know how to say “no” and “not” properly in Mandarin Chinese, yes? Let’s dive in to find out!

Also, if you want to find out about imperatives in Mandarin and how to negate them, head to our relevant post.

Table of Contents

    How to use 不 (bù, “does not, will not”) in Mandarin?

     () is used to negate present and future actions, as well as everyday actions. For these uses, this is the pattern to follow:

     () placed before verb/adjective

    Remember, in some cases, the tone of may change. Let’s see this in practice!

    How to use 不 (bù) with present and future actions

     () usually describes something that’s not happening now or won’t happen in the future. For example:


    (Tā bù gāo, dài yǎnjìng.)

    He is not tall and wears glasses.


    (Wǒ míngtiān hěn máng, bù néng gěi nǐ dǎ diànhuà.)

    I’ll be busy tomorrow; I won’t be able to phone you.

     () in the first example negates a present state of affairs: “He is not tall.” In the second example, it negates a future action: “I won’t be able to phone you.”

    How to use 不 (bù) to negate habitual actions

     () can negate something done as a habit, such as “not calling my mother every day” or “not doing exercise,” etc.


    (Tā bù xǐhuan dōngtiān.)

    He doesn’t like winter.


    (Wǒ bù kāichē shàngbān, wǒ qí zìxíngchē.)

    I don’t drive to work, I ride a bike.

    How to use 不 (bù) in a question

    When  () is used to ask questions, we follow this pattern:

    A (verb/adjective) +  () + A (verb/adjective)


    (Nǐ jīntiān qùbuqù shàngkè?)

    Will you go to school today?


    (Nǐ shì Xiǎo Hóng de jiějie, duìbuduì?)

    You are Xiao Hong’s sister, right?

    This is the famous “A-not-A” structure in Mandarin,” often called "positive-negative question.” The first example above follows the pattern of “verb + + verb,” in a positive-negative, (positive) + 不去 (negative), question form. The second example follows the pattern of “ adjective + + adjective,” and the positive-negative (yes-no) question is placed at the end of the sentence, which is similar to how “right?” is used in English. “对不对” can often be placed at the end of a sentence to ask a “right?” question.

    • When requesting “don’t do…,” you can use 不要 (bù yào, don’t) and (bié, don’t). For example,

      他在睡觉, 不要/别大声说话。

      (Tā zài shuìjiào, bù yào/bié dàshēng shuōhuà.)

      He is asleep; don’t talk loudly.

    • The negation form of (shì, to be) and 应该 (yīnggāi, should) are 不是 (bù shì, not to be) and 不应该 (bù yīnggāi, should not): we don’t say 没是 (méi shì) and 没应该 (méi yīnggāi). For example:


      (Tā bù shì xuésheng.)

      He is not a student.


      (Nǐ bù yīnggāi qù.)

      You shouldn’t go.

    • The negation form of (děi, need, have to) is 不用 (bù yòng, don’t need), rather than 不得 (bù děi, don’t need). For example:


      (Wǒ jīntiān bù yòng xiě zuòyè.)

      I don’t need to do my homework today.


      (Wǒ jīntiān bù děi xiě zuòyè.)

      I don’t need to do my homework today.

    How to use 没 (méi, “did not”) in Mandarin Chinese?

    Generally speaking,  (méi) is used in negations when talking about the past. 没有 (méiyǒu), when used with words other than (yǒu, to have), is used similarly as  (méi); they are mostly interchangeable. The pattern to follow is the same as with  ():

     (méi) placed before verb/adjective

    Let’s see that in more detail.

    How to use 没 (méi) to negate something in the past

    You can use  (méi) to negate events in the past. Take a look:


    (Wǒ zuótiān méi/méiyǒu qù kàn péngyou.)

    I didn’t go to visit my friend yesterday.

    How to use 没 (méi) to negate the completion of a change

     (méi) indicates that something “has not changed from past to present.” Let’s compare the following two sentences:


    (Jīntiān bù lěng.)

    Today is not cold.


    (Tiān hái méi biàn lěng ne.)

    It has not been getting cold.

    In the first sentence  () simply negates the current state of affairs. In the second sentence,  (méi) negates the completion of any change.

    How to use 没 (méi) + 有 (yǒu, “to have”)

    Although "don't have" refers to the present, only  (méi) can negate (yǒu, to have) to mean “don’t have.”  () cannot, so we don’t say X不有 (bù yǒu).


    (ā hěn máng, méi yǒu shíjiān.)

    He is very busy and has no time to spare.


    When  (méi) negates (yǒu, to have), it can be for cases in the past, present, and future. For example:


    (Guòqù tā méi yǒu qián.)

    He used to have no money.

    (lit.) In the past he didn’t have money.


    (Tā méi yǒu wǒ gāo.)

    He is not as tall as me.

    (lit.) He does not have the same height as me.


    (Míngtiān méi yǒu Zhōngwén kè.)

    There will be no Chinese class tomorrow.

    (lit.) Tomorrow we won’t have Chinese class.

    How to use 没 (méi) in comparisons

     (méi) can form a comparison, meaning “not as…as…” For example:


    (Zhèlǐ de dōngtiān méi (yǒu) nàlǐ de dōngtiān lěng.)

    Winter here is not as cold as winter there.

    (lit.) Here it does not have as cold a winter as there.

    To sum up

     () and  (méi) are both negative words, but they are usually not interchangeable. While they mean the same thing, they are used differently.

    The easiest way to remember is:  (méi) negates past events and (yǒu, to have); and  () negates everything else. But here is a more detailed table:

    When should you use  ()?

    • When talking about the present or future

    • When negating habitual actions

    • When negating (shì, to be) and 应该 (yīnggāi, should)

    When do you use  (méi)?

    • When talking about the past

    • When negating the completion of a change

    • When negating (yǒu, to have)

    • When making a comparison (not as… as…)

    Now, it’s time for you to put your knowledge to the test. We’ve created some activities on the Mandarin negations  () and  (méi) for you so that you can put them into practice!

    Downloadable Resources

    Elevate your language-learning journey to new heights with the following downloadable resources.

    How to say no and not in Mandarin Chinese: 不 (bù) or 没 (méi)~Activities

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