how to say not this but that in mandarin

103. Saying “Not this, but that” in Mandarin

Podcast Duration: 00:33:41

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103. Saying "not this but that" in Mandarin

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0:00 GW-Connector-Not-This-Instead-That-连词-不是……而是

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 + Incorrect Analysis/Reason, 而是 + 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。”

Sentence 2:

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。 “

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, 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 replaces 不是.

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…” 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…,” 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.

4:38 Comments & Emails

Sabrina by Email


As you may remember, I canceled my yearly subscription so that I could take advantage of your lifetime program.  This may give you an indication of my opinion already.  I love your course!  

I started your program just a few weeks ago.  I have progressed slowly through the pronunciation mastery part as I really want to learn the right way to speak.  I really like how you’ve organized the units and overall course.  Your videos are good bite-sized chunks that give the necessary information.  The repetition of having the pronunciation section with Anny at the end of every group helps immensely too.  The flashcards are also amazing and really, really helpful.  

What I really like is how you meticulously go through each sound with clear examples.  And, if there are any questions, you respond back pretty immediately.  I also like that everyone’s questions are listed.  Several times I have had the same question as someone else, so it really is great to have these addressed as you do.  For example, I also noticed the difference with the “ing” ending where it sounded more like “ung” than “ing” in both Anny’s review and the flashcards.  Not only did you give a written answer, but you also addressed it with more depth in your podcast/video.  This is so wonderful!  I cannot thank you enough for providing such good information!

I am really looking forward to progressing through your entire course.  I believe, based on what I am experiencing so far, that I will be able to become fluent in Mandarin thanks to you.  

Thank you so much,


Oliver by Email

Dear Luke & Phil,

Although it was necessary for me to take a break learning Chinese, the daily Anki routine is still something never to be missed. And that makes it easy for me to pick up where I left. Shortly.

With the help of the MB method, it was possible for me to acquire HSK1 Level with an excellent score in a very short time – just using MB, a vocabulary list, and some mock tests for preparation. All the other stuff that I bought turned out to be unnecessary. 

Before using the MB method, I tried a couple of other methods (both online and offline), but the holistic approach of your method was the only one that really did work right from the start.

That being said, I wanted to take the opportunity to just say „thank you“. Once circumstances allow, next year and 500 words later, I feel confident traveling to China without being lost 🙂

And – as we all know – this is just the beginning of a very interesting journey…

Thanks again and best regards from Germany,



Chris Lewis on The Mandarin Blueprint Method Overview

我爱它。I loved and resonated with everything that was said in the rapid acquisition course. I’ve done some traditional learning and some memory techniques and was looking for something exactly like this.

Well done guys. AMAZING. I look forward to fluency in less time than I thought possible.


Corinna Wetzel on BONUS: The Basic Chinese Sentence

You guys make grammar fun. I literally lol’ed when you told us that little anecdote about your tutor sessions at the end, cause that would totally be me, as well.


Ric Santos on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 人们

When do you use 健康 and 身体 ? Do they mean the same thing when used as a noun? Can 身体 be used as an adjective meaning healthy?


Rick Angleland on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 后来

How does 后来 differ from 以后? Does 后来 imply that something came before?


Carys Scott on Mandarin Initials: Categorized

The tongue positions are they the same as in the Welsh alphabet?


William Beeman on BONUS: Connector – Conditional “If-Then” Statements with 如果…, 就 & 要是…的话

Hi I thought 如果 and 的话 both meant “if” in 如果你现在不能打电话的话 they both appear. Is there a special reason for this?


William Beeman on Start “Shadowing” in Phase 4

Thanks for this useful advice. I wanted to second what you are saying. A lot of people think that language learning is primarily cognitive. Some go as far as understanding that you have to exercise and involve vocal apparatus. But language is, in fact, extremely kinesthetic.

When we use language we are always using it in context, and we are using our whole bodies, not just our brain, lips, and tongue. We are moving, gesturing, directing our gaze, feeling the environment, and engaging all our senses (think Proust and his madeleines).

I should tell you that I am a trained opera singer. My great coaches insisted that when learning our roles, we should be moving as we sing. Body movement tends to concretize the learning. So when you get on stage, you don’t forget your long opera roles because your memory is tied to body movement–gesture, and of course interaction with other performers and the physical stage set. This is just a long way of saying I think you are suggesting an extremely effective technique that has resonance in many other memorization and routinization learning tasks.


Chris Jensen on “Tougher” Initials Explanation

Great lesson! The voiced/unvoiced and heavily/less aspirated explanations were simple but made a very noticeable difference for me.


Chris Lewis on It’s a Word! 只

So 只 can be used in different sentences with different
tones/sounds? How many characters share this trait?


Jason Pon on Level 16 Complete

I love the idea that all of the previous sentences that we’ve been acquiring throughout the lessons are building blocks to larger dialogues! A bit of a gaming concept of gathering the materials for investment later on. Nifty indeed.


Jonathan Glazier on Level 13 Complete

Well phew, level 13 was great but it’s taken me a while to complete! I think it was all the sentences! I managed to keep reviewing all my other cards every day but all the sentences got backed up. But today I cleared them and now I am back on track. It was partly that I got very busy and it frustrated me that all I was doing was reviewing and didn’t do any new lessons. I think its good to go through these ups and downs because if you can work through it and keep up the Anki reviews it really gives you the confidence you will carry on no matter what. SO my advice is to do what you can, stick with Anki and don’t worry about progressing all the time. A week of consolidation is no bad thing.

30:05 Movies! 

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

Deborah Driscoll  on Make a Movie 语

Johnny 5 is sitting on the heart shaped couch with a giant microphone in his hand. In trots the Unicorn (yu) so Johnny 5 decides to interview her. “What language do you speak?” “I speak Unicorn of course”, she replies. “Unicorn??” he asks, “What kind of a language is that? That’s not even a real language!” Indignant the unicorn walks off, muttering curses in her unicorn language.

1 September, 2020