Negative Adverbs in Chinese

Negative Adverbs – Chinese Adverbs

DENY DENY DENY! 否定 Adverbs in Mandarin Chinese

There are 6 types of adverbs and this post will focus on negative adverbs.

In our tagging system of The Mandarin Blueprint Method Foundation Course, we refer to adverbs as “How Does What,” because that’s how they function. Adverbs tell you how an individual action takes place. We divide the sentences that contain adverbs into the following categories:

The Six Types of Adverbs

1. Deny 否定 (fǒudìng) – An adverb that denies or negates the action also called a negative adverb

2. How Often 频率 (pínlǜ) – An adverb that shows the frequency of action also called adverb of frequency

3. In What Range 范围 (fànwéi) – An adverb that specifies the range of action or also called scope adverb

4. Time 时间 (shíjiān) – An adverb that adds context to the amount of time that relates to action can also be named adverb of time

5. To What Degree 程度 (chéngdù) – An adverb that specifies the degree of action or adverb of degree

6. Tone of Voice 语气 (yǔqì) – An adverb that influences the tone of voice surrounding the action can also be called adverb of mood or modal adverb

The Chinese word for “adverb” is 副词 fùcí, which translates to “‘auxiliary’ or ‘subsidiary’ word.” Considering that you can’t use adverbs alone and must attach them to action, “subsidiary” is an apt description.

First, we’ll talk about the “Deny 否定  (fǒudìng)” adverb or Negative Adverb.

Negative Adverbs 否定 (fǒudìng)

Any action can be denied or negated, so we’ll focus on sentences that contain different forms of negation.

Sentence 1:

我说话,但是我的儿子不说话。- Level 13
Wǒ shuōhuà, dànshì wǒde érzi bù shuōhuà
I speak, but my son does not speak.

This sentence represents the most basic form of negation in the language using 不 bù. The action is 说话 ‘to speak,’ so to say “not speak” you simply add “不” in front of it. Easy! 

Sentences 2 & 3 with Negative Adverbs:

儿子总是记不住我说的话。- Level 13
Érzi zǒngshì jìbuzhù wǒ shuō de huà
Son always can’t remember what I say.

我找不到我的包。- Level 13 
Wǒ zhǎobudào wǒde bāo
I can’t find my bag.

These two sentences show negation through a useful structure: “Action + 不 + Result.” By placing the negative adverb 不 (bù) between the action and the result, you’re indicating that the result cannot be achieved.

记不住 – The result of ‘setting in place’ (住) cannot be achieved (不) via ‘remembering’ (记).

找不到 – The result of ‘success’ (到) cannot be achieved (不) via ‘looking for’ (找).

Note 1: The pronunciation of 不 (bù) is always 5th tone in this structure.

Note 2: To indicate that a result can be achieved, replace 不 (bù) with 得 (de) (read more about this in our article about infixes.)

Sentence 4:

我吃了,但是我的儿子没(有)吃。- Level 14
Wo chīle, dàn wǒ érzi méi chī.
I ate, but my son didn’t eat/hasn’t eaten.

The negation character for this sentence is the negative adverb 没 (méi), not 不 (bù). Why? Notice that the translation says “didn’t” as opposed to “doesn’t.” That’s right, 没 (méi) indicates that you’re negating something that happened in the past

For example, 不说话 means “does not speak” whereas “没说话” means “didn’t speak.” It’s only a one-character difference, but it’s quite a different form of negation.

Note: When negating an action in the past, you can use 没 (méi) and 没有 (méiyǒu) interchangeably.

Sentence 5 with Negative Adverbs:

我儿子没有手机,不过我有手机。- Level 14 
Wǒ érzi méiyǒu shǒujī, bùguò wǒ yǒu shǒujī.
My son doesn’t have a phone, but I have a phone.

An exception to the rule of 没 (méi) negating past actions and 不 (bù) negating present actions is when the primary verb is 有 yǒu – ‘to have.’ You can only negate 有 (yǒu) with the negative adverb 没 (méi), so that’s why the translation of this sentence is ‘doesn’t’ and not ‘didn’t.’

If you’re curious to learn more about 没 (méi), check out our YouTube Video all about it. 

Sentence 6 & 7:

别走,等等我。- Level 14
Bié zǒu, děng děng wǒ
Don’t go, wait for me.

你不要只关心自己。- Level 18
Nǐ bùyào zhǐ guānxīn zìjǐ
Don’t only care about yourself.

As you can see, these two sentences show you two ways of commanding “do not.” In this case, you’re denying a future action. Whenever you want to say “don’t,” you can use the negative adverbs 别 (bié) and 不要 (bùyào) interchangeably.