Not This But That in Chinese With 不是……而是 Bùshì……érshì

How to Say "Not This..., But Instead That..." in Chinese 不但 bùdàn...而是 érshì... (Grammar Point)

Connectors are what linguists call “conjunctions.” The Chinese word for them is “连词 liáncí – ‘connect + word.’ They serve to take separate thoughts and show how they are connected. Examples in English are words like “and,” “or,” “because,” etc. Chinese connectors are one of the most straightforward elements of the language to understand, so be sure not to overthink them too much :). Today’s article will cover the Chinese Conjunction 不是……而是 Bùshì……érshì (not this but that in Chinese).

Not This But That in Chinese
不是……而是 – Bùshì……érshì

This grammar point comes in handy whenever someone makes a mistake in their analysis of a situation. For example, suppose that you show up late for work, and your colleague says, “Heavy traffic today, eh?” you might say, “It wasn’t heavy traffic, but rather that my car broke down.” 

In Chinese, the structure is like this:

不是 Bùshì + Incorrect Analysis/Reason, 而是 érshì + Correct Analysis/Reason

Let’s look at some examples:

Sentence 1:

这辆车不是我的,而是他的。 – Level 35
Zhè liàng chē bùshì wǒ de, érshì tā de.
This car isn’t mine, but his.

I like to imagine that a man is standing next to his friend’s beautiful sports car when a car enthusiast walks by and says, “Whoa, I love this car! How long have you had it?” The car enthusiast’s mistaken analysis is that you’re standing by the car because it is yours. When this happens, the natural reply would be “这辆车不是我的,而是他的。Zhè liàng chē bùshì wǒ de, érshì tā de.”

Not This But That in Chinese – Sentence 2:

我不是不懂,而是不同意。
Wǒ bùshì bùdǒng, érshì bùtóngyì
It’s not that I don’t understand, but that I disagree.

Ah, a classic line when debating. Everyone wants to believe that if only people understood their perspective, of course, they would agree. If only! 

You could easily imagine that when Jack explains his point to Jill, and she still disagrees, Jack would say “You don’t understand,” to which Jill would reply “我不是不懂,而是不同意。Wǒ bùshì bùdǒng, érshì bùtóngyì. “

Sentence 3:

猎人没有一刀杀了狼,而是把狼的肚子切开,把奶奶从里面救了出来。 – Level 34
Lièrén méiyǒu yīdāo shā le láng, érshì bǎ láng de dùzi qiēkāi, bǎ nǎinai cóng lǐmiàn jiù le chūlái.
The hunter didn’t kill the wolf with his knife. Instead, he cut open the wolf’s stomach and saved the grandma.

In this line from “Little Red Riding Hood,” we can see a past tense version of this structure. When the hunter is trying to save 奶奶 nǎinai, you might think that he would kill the Big Bad Wolf, but he goes right to save her instead. Brutal.

Because this line comes from a story that’s written in the past tense, 没有 méiyǒu replaces 不是 bùshì.

Grammar Ain’t That Hard, Y’all.

I wonder if we’ve made the point that comprehensible input is the key to acquiring grammar before? Yes? Practically every day, you say? WELL, THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. 

We enjoy pointing out these grammar patterns, and we know that adults can find it thrilling to realize how much they’ve learned. This does not change the fact that you won’t truly acquire “不是…而是… Bùshì…érshì… (not this but that in Chinese)” until you’ve seen it in understandable context several times. Does that mean that these grammar lessons are pointless? Not quite.

The adult mind is better than a child’s at focusing on details, especially conceptual details like a grammar point. After you conceptualize a structure like “不是…, 而是…, Bùshì…,érshì…, (not this but that in Chinese)” the benefit is that you’ve upgraded your ability to notice. If you are better able to notice the structure, you’ll comprehend it more quickly and, therefore, reach acquisition all the more efficiently.

Keep. Smashing. It.

Also, don’t forget there is no such thing as “learning” grammar, it is more about acquisition. You can read more about how to acquire Chinese grammar in a natural way in this post.

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Chinese Conjunctions
17 May , 2021
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