How to Say Yes and No in Chinese

Posted by Lilian Li on Dec 25, 2015

how to say yes and no in Chinese

Let's start with negation. In most situations, an English speaker can just say "no." But in Chinese, it's a bit more complicated. Consider the following examples:

Consider this question:

tā xǐ huɑn yóu yǒnɡ mɑ?

他 喜 欢 游 泳 吗 ?

Rather than the answer being a single word, as in English, it would be as follows in Chinese: Bù xǐ huɑn (do not like).

Does he like swimming?

不 喜 欢

No, he doesn't

The negation is signified by不 "bù." But Chinese speakers usually don't stop there. They say不 "bù" + main verb. But now consider this example:

nǐ yǒu shǒu jī mɑ ?

你 有 手 机 吗 ?

Do you have a phone?

Here would be the answer in the negative: yǒu (do not have).

méi yǒu

没 有

Here we see that 不 "bù" is not the only word that denotes negation. If the main verb is " yǒu"有, then the proper way to negate it is to use 没"méi " before it. But Chinese speakers also use没"méi " if the main verb describes action from the past:

zuó tiān nǐ qù hǎi tān le mɑ ?

昨 天 你 去 海 滩 了 吗 ?

Did you go to the beach yesterday?

méi qù 。

没 去 。(did not go)

Sometimes they choose to add "有yǒu ," like this:

zuó tiān nǐ qù hǎi tān le mɑ ?

昨 天 你 去 海 滩 了 吗 ?

méi yǒu qù 。

没 有 去 。(did not go)

Now what about affirmation? The closest single character is "是shì," and this is often used by itself. But it's also quite common to say "是的shìde," or to repeat the main verb or verb phrase. For example:

nǐ xǐ huɑn kā fēi mɑ ?

你 喜 欢 咖 啡 吗 ?(Do you like coffee?)

shì 。

是 。(Yes, I do)

shì de 。

是 的 。(Yes, I do)

xǐ huɑn 。

喜 欢。(Yes, I do)

tā men zǒu le mɑ ?

他 们 走 了 吗 ?(Did they go?)

zǒu le 。

走了。(Yes, they did)

xué shenɡ shànɡ kè le mɑ ?

学 生 上 课 了 吗 ?(Did the students go to class?)

shànɡ kè le 。

上 课 了 。(Yes, they did)

The key to both affirmation and negation is to identify the verb phrase. That way you'll know which part to negate or repeat.

About The Author

Lilian Li

Lilian Li has a master's degree in linguistics and didactics from Rennes University in France. An expert in linguistics and educational psychology, she has taught Chinese as a foreign language for several years, primarily in France.

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