Pinyin ChartBlog
Banner Image

The Differences Between 不 (bù) and 没 (méi) in Mandarin Chinese

When you’re studying Chinese, one of the first things you’ll learn is how to use the word 不 (bù), meaning “not” as a negation word. Soon after you’ll learn about 没 (méi), which is also a negation word, meaning “not” or “have not”. 

You may be wondering: What’s the difference? When do we use each word?

Well, this post will set the record straight for the most common uses of each!

When to Use 不 (bù)

1. When negating adjectives:

Use 不 (bù) when you’re negating an adjective.

  • 我不高。(wǒ bù gāo) - I’m not tall.
  • 我的狗不小。(wǒ de gǒu bù xiǎo) - My dog isn’t small.
  • 他以前不胖。(tā yǐ qián bú pàng) - He wasn’t chubby before.

Wondering why 不 changes its tone in the last example? 

Check out this FREE lesson from our Beginner Conversational Course to learn more:

2. When negating present and future actions: 

不 (bù) should be used to negate the present and future - actions you’re not doing or not going to do.

  • 今天我不想出去。(jīn tiān wǒ bù xiǎng chū qu) - I don’t want to go out today.
  • 她不去了。(tā bú qù le) - She isn’t going anymore.
  • 明天不会下雨。(míng tiān bú huì xià yǔ) - It won’t rain tomorrow.

3. When negating habitual actions:

Use 不 (bù) when you’re talking about things that you usually don’t do.

  • 我不吃早饭。(wǒ bù chī zǎo fàn) - I don’t eat breakfast.
  • 他不喜欢喝酒。(tā bù xǐ huan hē jiǔ) - He doesn’t like to drink alcohol.
  • 我不抽烟。(wǒ bù chōu yān) - I don’t smoke.

4. For certain verbs:

It’s best to accumulate these one by one, but there are some verbs that you’ll only use with 不 (bù)

Some of the main ones include 是 (shì) - “to be”, 知道 (zhī dào) - “to know” and 认识 (rèn shi) - “to know/meet”.

  • 他以前不是老师 。(tā yǐ qián bú shì lǎo shī) - He was not a teacher before.
  • 我小时候不知道这个事。(wǒ xiǎo shí hòu bù zhī dào zhè ge shì) - When I was young, I did not know about this matter.
  • 我当时不认识她。(wǒ dāng shí bú rèn shi tā) - I did not know her at the time.

To learn more about the basics on 不 (bù) and how to use it, check out these FREE lessons in Unit 10 of our Beginner Conversational Course.

When to Use 没 (méi)

1. Any time you are negating the verb “to have” - 有 (yǒu):

You MUST use 没 (méi) to negate the verb 有 (yǒu). Think of 有 (yǒu) as a special case, which must always be negated using 没 (méi) - and never using 不 (bù)!

  • 我明天没有时间。(wǒ míng tiān méi yǒu shí jiān) - I do not have time tomorrow.
  • 她没有男朋友。(tā méi yǒu nán péng you) - She doesn’t have a boyfriend.
  • 他没有车。(tā méi yǒu chē) - He doesn’t have a car.

Check out this lesson from our Beginner course to learn more about this!

2. When negating past actions, meaning "have/did not":

  • 他昨天没去。(tā zuó tiān méi qù) - He didn’t go yesterday.
  • 我没看到他。(wǒ méi kàn dào tā) - I didn’t see him.
  • 我没吃早饭。(wǒ méi chī zǎo fàn) - I didn't eat breakfast.

Note: By the way, did you see the difference between these two sentences?

  • 我不吃早饭。(wǒ bù chī zǎo fàn) - I don’t eat breakfast.
  • 我没吃早饭。(wǒ méi chī zǎo fàn) - I didn't eat breakfast.

When using 不 (bù), it means that you normally “do not” eat breakfast. When using 没 (méi), however, the meaning changes to saying you “did not” eat breakfast, implying that you’re talking about “today”.

Check out this lesson from our Beginner course to learn more about this use of 没 (méi) and how it can be used with the experiential suffix 过 (guò)!

You can also check out this lesson from our Beginner course to compare how the meaning changes when using 不 (bù), 没 (méi), and 没 (méi) ... 过 (guò) to negate actions.

3. When expressing “to not have” when omitting 有 (yǒu):

没 (méi) can also be used to mean “to not have”, without using 有 (yǒu).

  • 我没什么问题。(wǒ méi shén me wèn tí) - I don’t have any questions.
  • 他没女朋友。(tā méi nǚ péng you) - He doesn’t have a girlfriend.
  • 她没钱。(tā méi qián) - She doesn’t have money.

Of course, you can also use 没有 (méi yǒu) in these examples as well.

Learn More

We hope this post has helped you to better understand the differences between 不 (bù) and 没 (méi)!

If you’re starting to learn Chinese, make sure to check out our Beginner Conversational Course!  The ENTIRE first level (45 structured lesson) is COMPLETELY free, including all of the study tools for each lesson, like flashcards, quizzes and more! 

If you like the course, you can purchase the full course (6 levels), which will provide you with a strong foundation in pinyin, tones, Chinese grammar, and more - and help you reach basic conversational fluency!

Check out the first lesson here:

Not a beginner?

To check out the free lessons from our Intermediate Course, click here, and Upper Intermediate click here!

Have a question? Let us know in the comments below!