Hey, it's Yangyang again!
This is the second in a series of posts on the most common mistakes English speakers make when speaking Chinese.
In my years of teaching Chinese, I have come to notice that English speakers tend to make similar mistakes over and over again. Today, I am going to tell you the most common mistake #9.
The goal here is to become aware of these mistakes to help you avoid making them in the first place!
Mistake #9: Using bù (不) to negate a past action
For past actions:
To indicate that an action DID NOT happen in the past, use the negation word “méi (没)” or “méi yǒu (没有).” “yǒu (有)” is optional.
Since “méi (没)” is used exclusively to negate “yǒu (有),” when you see “méi (没)” by itself, you know that “有 (yǒu)” is assumed.
If you think about it, it DOES makes sense to use “méi (没)” or “méi yǒu (没有)” to negate past action, because “méi yǒu (没有)” literally means “not have” and it’s the same in English, “not have done something.”
I didn’t eat breakfast.
wǒ méi (yǒu) chī zǎo fàn。
I have never been to China.
wǒ méi (yǒu) qù ɡuò zhōnɡ guó。
For Present and Future Action
To indicate that an action DOES NOT happen now or WILL NOT happen in the future, use the negation word “bù (不).”
I don’t like him.
wǒ bù xǐ huān tā。
I don’t want to go.
wǒ bù xiǎnɡ qù。
I won’t go to China tomorrow.
wǒ mínɡ tiān bú qù zhōnɡ guó。
It won't rain tomorrow.
mínɡ tiān bú huì xià yǔ。
Compare these two sentences.
(1) wǒ bù chī zǎo fàn (我不吃早饭)
It means “I don’t eat breakfast.”
When you use “bù (不)” to negate a verb, it means the action doesn’t happen or will not happen. This sentence implies that I don’t have the habit of eating breakfast. I just don’t do that.
(2) wǒ méi chī zǎo fàn (我没吃早饭)
It means “I haven’t eaten breakfast or I didn’t eat breakfast.”
Maybe I forgot to eat breakfast or maybe I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, the result is that I didn’t have breakfast.
Alright, I hope this helps you understand when to use bù (不) and when to use méiyǒu (没有) when negating past actions.
Please leave any questions you have in the comments section below and I will get back to you with an answer asap!
Also, I'd love to see you use the comments section to practice forming some sentences with what we just learned, show me what you can do!
Top 10 Most Common Mistakes: #8 coming next week :)
For a more in-depth examination of this concept, watch this video lesson from our Beginner Conversational Course: