As promised, here’s a little bit about how you have to be careful where you put your bù (不). There are some tricky things that can throw you for a loop if you’re translating English into Chinese (which is what we all do when starting out learning the language). I’m talking grammar (word order) today, but don’t worry, there will be a lot of examples. Let’s hear it for the Inductive Approach!
He will not tell anyone =
Don’t succumb to the temptation to say:
- (*WRONG*) tā huì bú gàosu biérén 他会不告诉别人 [he will not tell other-person]
You’ve got to put the “bu” before the “hui” like this:
- tā bú huì gàosu biérén 他不会告诉别人 [he not will tell other-person]
You shouldn’t tell her =
Same principle as above, don’t say:
- (*WRONG*) nǐ yīnggāi bú gàosu tā 你应该不告诉她 [you should not tell her]
Here’s the correct way:
- nǐ bù yīnggāi gàosu tā 你不应该告诉她 [you not should tell her]
He asked me not to tell anyone =
Perhaps you’re tempted to translate that as:
- (*WRONG*) tā ràng wǒ bú gàosu biérén 他让我不告诉别人 [he asked me not tell others]
But no. You’ve got to say:
1. tā ràng wǒ bú yào gàosu biérén 他让我不要告诉别人 [he asked me not want tell others]
Or, if you prefer, you can say:
2. tā bú ràng wǒ gàosu biérén 他不让我告诉别人 [he not let me tell others].
Numbers 1 and 2 are both gramatically correct but the meaning isn’t exactly the same. Sentence number 2 really means: “He didn’t let me tell anyone.” Because that pesky, divergent “ràng” 让 can be translated into a bunch of words, it means where you put your “bu” is important. The other thing to point out here is that for imperatives (“You! Do something!”), actually we’re talking about negative imperatives (“You! Don’t do something!”) they like that “yào” 要 in there.
The company hopes you don’t leave =
Getting away from gàosu 告诉 for a moment, don’t translate the above as:
- (*WRONG*) gōngsī xīwàng nǐ bù líkāi 公司不希望你离开 [company hope you not leave]
Rather, you’ve got to say:
- gōngsī bù xīwàng nǐ líkāi 公司不希望你离开 [company not hope you leave]
I don’t think so =
Here’s a situation where both ways are correct:
1. wǒ bú rènwéi shì zhè yàng 我不认为是这样 [I not think is this way]
2. wǒ rènwéi bú shì zhè yàng 我认为不是这样 [I think not is this way]
It helped a lot when I found out both are ok. But generally a Chinese person would say number 1.
I don’t think he’s polite =
1. wǒ juéde tā bù lǐmào 我觉得他不礼貌 [I think he not polite]
2. wǒ bù juéde tā lǐmào 我不觉得他礼貌 [I not think he polite]
Apparently, both of these are correct as well, but the second one feels like the answer to a question (nǐ juéde tā lǐmào ma?)
What did you learn today?
To summarize what’s going on in these examples, here are some of my own observations:
1. Usually you negate the first verb in a phrase, especially verbs that are modals in English (can, should, will, etc.).
Anyone else have any tips about this?