92. How to Say “But” in Chinese

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0:12 Grammar Point – “But” In Mandarin 不过,可是,但/但是

A Reminder About “Connectors”

Connectors are what linguists call “conjunctions.” The Chinese word for them is “连词 liáncí – ‘connect + word.’ They serve to connect 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 :).

#GW-Connector-But-连词-转折

“I want to understand Chinese grammar, BUT I’m not sure how to use ‘but.'”

Fret not, brave learner! This article will cover the different ways that you can indicate a “转折 zhuǎnzhé – turn in the course of events” using the words “但是/但 dànshì/dàn,” “可是 kěshì,” and “不过 búguò.”

Let’s check out some example sentences:

Sentence 1:

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 do.

We’ll start with the softer toned “不过.” Compared to “但是” and “可是,” 不过 usually has a lighter tone. Whatever comes after “不过” is often a positive’ turn of events’ from the speaker’s perspective. 

‘Sure, my son doesn’t have a phone, but I do [and therefore the problem of not having a phone is solved].” Everything in brackets is implied by using 不过 as opposed to 但是 or 可是.

Sentence 2:

我吃了,但是(可是)我的儿子还没吃。 – Level 14

Wǒ chī le, dànshì (kěshì) wǒ de érzi háiméi chī.

I ate, but my son hasn’t eaten.

In this sentence, the “turn of events” is, ‘but my son hasn’t eaten.’ It would be hard to spin that as a ‘positive’ turn, so in this case, you’re far more likely to use either 但是 or 可是. 

但是 & 可是 are virtually always interchangeable. The only slight difference is that 但是 is slightly more formal than 可是, but you can use either of them in day-to-day life.

Sentence 3:

我有两个儿子,可是(但是)没有女儿。 – Level 17

Wǒ yǒu liǎnggè érzi, kěshì (dànshì) méiyǒu nǚér. 

I have two sons, but no daughter.

Once again, it would be strange to put “不过” before something like, “but I don’t have a daughter,” because ‘not having’ something as lovely as a daughter isn’t positive. 

This isn’t to say that you must always look for a negative or positive connotation since “turns of event” can be neutral, but in this case, it’s better to use “可是/但是 “as opposed to 不过.

Sentence 4:

我住在东边,不过我在西边工作。 – Level 16

Wǒ zhù zài dōngbiān, bùguò wǒ zài xībiān gōngzuò.

I live in the east, but I work in the west.

This sentence is great for understanding context. There’s nothing inherently positive or negative about “living in the east” or “working in the west,” so we can infer the context from the speaker’s use of 不过. Because he/she used “不过,” the speaker is likely talking to someone who would glad to hear he/she works in the west.

You could imagine that Person A said something like, “Our event is in the western part of the city, do you live in the west?” to which Person B replied “I live in the east” (aka, thing Person A doesn’t want to hear) “不过 BUT I work in the west” (aka, thing Person A is happy to hear).

Sentence 5:

我只有一只大狗,但有两只小猫。 – Level 26

Wǒ zhǐ yǒu yīzhī dà gǒu, dàn yǒu liǎngzhī xiǎo māo.

I only have one big dog, but I have two small kittens.

Finally, “但” by itself is the most formal. A lot of written Chinese uses abbreviated versions of words to get across the same idea as it’s spoken counterparts. This makes sense, considering how long it used to take to write before the invention of typing. If you’re writing by hand, the shorter, the better!

As always, just because a word is considered “written Chinese” doesn’t mean you can’t use it in speech, but you’ll sound more formal. Also, 但 by itself doesn’t imply anything negative or positive; it’s merely the most written way to express a “转折 zhuǎnzhé – turn of events.”

When you see sentences containing ‘但是/但,’ ‘可是,’ or ‘不过,’ ask yourself, “what’s the turn of events? Is it negative, positive, or neutral?” That answer may not always be obvious, but recognizing the pattern will help you acquire the structure faster.

5:39 Comments & Emails

Christine Anderssen by Email

To be honest, learning Chinese has never been an item on my bucket list. If I had been planning to learn a new language, it would make a lot more sense to learn something like Dutch, or German. My home language is Afrikaans, the youngest language in the world, which originated from Dutch and other influences about 150 years ago. I can already read and understand most of Dutch and some German, yet here I am, studying Chinese, one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn for Westerners.

I blame COVID, personally.

When the lockdown happened, my mental state was such that I just could not summon enough energy to spend on my normal hobbies such as reading or sewing. I was also working full time from home which was totally exhausting. I looked for something that would take my mind off things and that I could immerse myself in without having to invest a lot of emotional energy.

I somehow fell into the rabbit hole of Chinese, fantasy/costume TV dramas. After watching a few episodes of the first one, I was hooked. They were perfect for my state of mind – funny, over the top, dramatic without asking me to ‘angst’ too much over what will happen.

I am perfectly happy to read English subtitles, but slowly became intrigued by the language. How can this even be a language? It all sounds the same!

Then, as these things happen these days, advertisements for Mandarin courses started to pop up in my social media. Maybe I should just do a short course on pronunciation? That is where it all started. Suddenly I found myself signing up for the Foundation course and here I am today, being able to read short sentences in Chinese. (‘My name is bread’)! Oh well, we quickly migrated from there to ‘My phone is slow’. I still can’t understand anything anyone says in the C-dramas, but boy, am I excited when I watch one where there are dual sub-titles, in both Chinese and English, and I suddenly recognise a character and realise that they said something that I actually know.

My goal is to one day being able to watch C-dramas and being able to at least understand some of what they are saying without being dependent on sub-titles.

But I am also getting excited by the other possibilities that exist in being able to speak Chinese. I emigrated to New Zealand about 2 years ago. There is a huge Chinese business presence here and I have come to the realisation that if I can learn Chinese, I will be able to tap into a huge potential market for work or business.

Apart from that, learning Chinese in the past couple of weeks has really taken my mind off things and enabled me to immerse myself into something that is so totally different from what I am used to that I feel I had been transported into a totally different dimension 😊. The way that the course is constructed and presented makes you feel as if you are playing a game or putting together a puzzle. It is exciting every day to learn new characters and to review the characters and words that you have learned over the past few days to see if you can still remember them. (Was it Lady Di or Marilyn Monroe who entered the bathroom in my grandmother’s house and pushed the hook in her hand through the floating sun-shaped balloon into the electrical socket, causing her hair to frizz and her body to jerk around from the shock? Mmmm… maybe I shouldn’t have chosen such similar, wishy-washy actors…. Lesson learned)!

What do I like about the course?

I like the way that the course is structured so that you work through levels. This gives one a real sense of achievement. Luke and Phil also constantly encourage and congratulate you on your progress, which really helps with motivation for continuing.

Obviously the Hanzi movie method approach is a game-changer. It makes it super easy to remember characters and words. I had known about the Memory Palace concept before, but have never tried to apply it myself – with Luke and Phil’s guidance it just all clicked together and is making so much sense. To learn a character – and this includes the meaning, tone, keystroke order as well as the actual character itself, is a matter of minutes. And you rarely forget a character once you have learned it.

I have mentioned before that Luke and Phil are super involved in the course. These guys go over and beyond what is required. They regularly interact with people going through the various stages by commenting on their comments, but what I also really appreciate is the other advice that comes with the course – they not only coach Chinese, but also give you advice on goal setting, dealing with slumps and setbacks and just overall general advice on how to be successful in tackling something as new and daunting as learning this language.

I also really appreciate the effort that was put into creating the Anki decks. I was also familiar with Spaced Repetition Systems before and have tried to create flashcards for my son for some subjects in primary school. I gave up after a few tries since it is just so much darn work to create the flashcards. I therefore really appreciate the amount of effort that went into creating those cards.

I am still in the early stages of my journey. So far, I am amazed at the progress I have made. I am amazed at the fact that I can read and understand simple sentences (I started the Foundation course exactly 5 weeks ago today). But I know there is still a long way to go. I try not to be too upset that I STILL cannot understand a single word of my C-Dramas (no, I lie.. I do catch a few words here and there) but I know that Rome (not to speak of Beijing) is not built in a day. It is going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to reach the top of the mountain, but I am convinced that if I just maintain my focus, learn a few new characters every day and review my previous words and sentences, I will be able to achieve my ultimate goal one day in the future – to watch Nirvana in Fire without subtitles 😊

Thanks to Luke and Phil for such an outstanding course – if you ever doubt whether it is worth it and worth the money – don’t doubt it, it is worth it. Even if you just spend a few weeks with it, learning a new skill such as Memory Palaces and learning to use Spaced Repetition Systems, it is already worth it. But the satisfaction that comes from looking at Chinese characters and realizing that you can actually understand what they are trying to depict is really priceless.

13:58

Julianne McLay on (BONUS) The Language Learning Tripod Part 3: Time

Thank you guys for this course! It has been great so far! I like
to finish every few lessons with watching “Happy Chinese” on
Youtube. It is a show in Chinese and I love noticing new things
the better I get. I am starting to hear the ma’s when there is a
question or when they use bu or le. It feels like a little reward
for going through the course!

15:59

Matt Shubert on YOU DID IT!!!

Just finished the PM course and I feel I need to express my
gratitude for this great thing you guys have built! My Mandarin
journey began over a year ago but was incredibly scattershot and
inconsistent, with little overall progress. Worse, I had adopted
so many poor pronunciation practices. My Chinese girlfriend tried
to help (which mostly consisted of her saying “no, it’s 吃! Not
‘chee’!”) but honestly, it wasn’t until learning from fellow 外国人
that all of the tones, initials, and finals finally made sense.
She’s told me that my pronunciation over the last 2 weeks is like
night and day. You guys just “get” how to teach this language for
non-Chinese adults.

I am so incredibly excited to move into the Mandarin Blueprint
course proper and build up my Mandarin skills the right
way…right after I zero out these pronunciation Anki decks 🙂

Cheers Luke & Phil!
-Matt / 马特

17:53

Dawn Shannon on YOU DID IT!!!

This Pronunciation Mastery course is invaluable; anyone who is
considering learning Mandarin Chinese should take this course.
For me, it removed the negative thinking; for example, “I will
never be able to learn this language.” “Am I just stupid when
it comes to Mandarin?” that thinking is now in the past.

What I consider to be an asset, is Luke and Phil whose “mother“
tongue is English, who overcame the hurdles, the troubles and the
frustrations of learning Mandarin Chinese—they were able
to succeed.

So yes, I can learn Mandarin! I have the roadmap.

Thanks

18:48

Matt Shubert  on BONUS: SRS – The Frequency Game

I see a lot of people dunking on Anki in various comments, even
Luke and Phil often seem apologetic about the fact that they
chose to use it for the course, but honestly after the initial
growing pains, I love it. It’s got a steeper learning curve and a
total lack of aesthetic quality, but in return it has:

-full-featured and easy-to-use card customization
-near perfect cross-device syncing (seriously, I’m amazed that I
can jump from my home desktop, to my work laptop, to my Android
phone, even within the same study session, and it all just works
seamlessly)
-a study algorithm that you can either just take as is and it
works great for retention, or you can edit to the finest detail
-no cost 🙂

The above, coupled with the fact that the guys provide all the
decks to make this method work? That’s all we can really ask for!

20:05

Kate Gans on GS-Special-在-Relator-Usage & GS-Special-在-DoesWhat-Usage

When do you you use 生活 instead of 住?

Are they interchangeable?

21:41

Alex Sumray on 公司的左边和右边

Hi there,

Really struggling to understand this sentence: 每天中午差不多十二点.

Everyday at noon, more or less 12 o’clock. Not sure I’m missing something here, but I don’t see why the sentence couldn’t just be:
每天中午… or 每天差不多十二点…

22:41

Gregory Paturau on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 银行

I’m not sure I understand the use of ‘’没‘’ in this sentence:
街道的银行关门没?
I would think we would say: 街道的银行关门吗?
Thank you.

23:34 Movies! 

This blog post explains the theory behind Movie Scenes and learning characters.

Daan Helsloot on Make a Movie 王

In the kitchen of my -ang set, Wreck-it ralph places a crown of
razor blades on a bag of soil. He gets on one knee and proclaims:
‘All hail the KING of the earth’

24:29

Della Fuller on Make a Movie 廿

My friend Nancy is sitting in my sister’s backyard (“an”
location) and is so excited because she has been studiously
studying Mandarin Blueprint for TWENTY weeks, and is now halfway
through the course! She wants to commemorate this occasion
somehow. On the table beside her she sees two wooden crosses. Her
face lights up with a great idea! She walks over to the garden
with the two crosses and sticks them both in the dirt. They look
great for a moment, but then they keep falling sideways. She
pulls her trusty razor blade out of her pocket and sticks it into
the bottoms of both of the crosses to keep them upright. They
look fantastic! And they signify TWENTY perfectly!

27:06

Al (泰光) Roy (王) on Make a Movie 治

Null set backyard:

Jet Li wants TO GOVERN the backyard movie set, 所以他在台上站喝一杯水。

29:23

Denis Aganin on Make a Movie 冷

A sergeant is screaming at Leonardo Di Caprio standing straight
in the living room, putting icicles in his clothes and asking
“Are you COLD?” – “No, sir!” answers shivering Leonardo.

30:16

Alex Sumray on Make a Movie 后

Leaving out some personal and perhaps overly gruesome elements
in my story, it basically involves Harry Redknapp working the
production line of an ‘After Eights’ factory. (are After Eights a
thing in places other than England!??).
Anyway, he promises he’ll get back to work after his break.. but
his boss ain’t having any of it and comes back with his light
saber.. and ye, I’ll stop the scene there.

31:19

Della Fuller on Make a Movie 后

Heath Ledger is in the backyard of my “ou” location. He is
standing in front of a conveyor belt, working hard trimming
vegetables with a razor blade, readying them for further
processing. The Rolling Stones mouth is being his annoying self,
asking Heath for an autograph. Heath keeps saying, “AFTER my
shift, AFTER my shift,” but the mouth just won’t stop shoving his
autograph book and pen in Heath’s face. Finally Heath takes the
razor blade and cuts both the autograph book and pen in half and
throws it back at the mouth. “There, I said AFTER, and I mean
AFTER!”

32:16

tyson on Make a Movie 万

I ended up making a scene with a saber-toothed cat after seeing
that cat on an ad for the movie “10,000 BC” and reading that they
lived 10,000 years ago.
I also found a song with J. Bieber in it called “10,000 Hours.”
Maybe someone would find J. Bieber helpful for this scene.

32:57

Abigail on Make a Movie 猪

zhu- actor: Jack Dawson
犭- Bear Grylls
者 – Meryl Streep
(outside my childhood home)

Jack Dawson is cast in a film in which he needs to act like a
pig. Meryl Streep is trying to show him how. Bear Grylls comes
along and can clearly see neither has spent time with pigs!

33:53

Denis Aganin on Make a Movie 吹

Chubacca approached Jabba the Hutt (lucky character and prop
match) outside my scene, had an argument, Jabba called the Howler
(a flying “mouth envelope” from Harry Potter) which literally
blew Chubacca away.

34:42

tyson on Make a Movie 且

Shu Qi is resting in the bedroom of my -E set and Mike Wazowski
bursts into the room complaining that there are no razors in the
house. Because he’s not that attentive and also a little short,
he doesn’t see the razors at his feet or the ones on the dresser
above his head. “Mike, there’s MORE OVER your head and some at
your feet. And MOREOVER, you should knock before you enter this
room.”