Did you have breakfast this morning?
没有 (méi yǒu).
No, I definitely didn’t say that I had mayonnaise for breakfast—even though that’s what it might sound like at first!
What I said is that no, I didn’t have breakfast.
Whether you’re new to Chinese or you’ve been learning it for ages, 没有 (méi yǒu) is a phrase you’ll never stop hearing.
In the beginner stages, many learners confuse 没有 with 不 (bù), the Chinese word that means “no” or “not.”
This is because 没有 can also mean “no”—and four other different things.
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what 没有 actually means and how to use it, scratch no further.
In this blog post, I’m going to break down the primary differences between 没有 and 不, plus explain in plain English the five different meanings of the Chinese 没有.
By the end of it, you’ll be using this fun little phrase in sentences with ease.
不 (Bù) vs. 没有 (Méi Yǒu): What’s the Difference?
At this point in your Chinese studies, you’ve probably already figured out that both 不 and 没有 can be used to mean “no.”
However, there’s a huge difference between these two tiny words.
Different Meanings When Paired with Verbs
First of all, when paired with verbs, 不 means you don’t do something whereas 没有 means you haven’t done or didn’t do something.
我不吃早饭。 (wǒ bù chī zǎo fàn) — I don’t eat breakfast.
我没(有)吃早饭。 (wǒ méi [yǒu] chī zǎo fàn) — I haven’t eaten breakfast (or, I didn’t eat breakfast).
Think of 不 as being used to describe habits. For example, in the sentence 我不吃早饭, the speaker is telling us that eating breakfast isn’t one of their daily habits. It’s simply something they don’t do.
Whereas someone who said 我没吃早饭 is telling us that they didn’t eat breakfast this morning, whether they usually do or not.
没 Is Used to Negate 有, Not 不
As a beginner, you learn that 不 is the word for “no” and “not.” Like we saw in our last example about eating breakfast, you can put 不 in front of a verb to explain that you don’t do something.
However, this is different for the verb 有 (yǒu) — to have.
In Chinese, we make this verb negative by adding 没 (méi) to the end. It would be incorrect to say 不有 (bù yǒu). Instead, we say 没有 (méi yǒu) — to not have.
我不看书。 (wǒ bù kàn shū) — I don’t read books.
我没有书。 (wǒ méi yǒu shū) — I don’t have books.
不 (Bù) Negates 是 (Shì)
The verb 是 (shì) means “to be,” and is always negated by 不.
So when you want to say that something isn’t something, use the word 不是 (bù shì). In this case, you never use the word 没有 to negate a sentence.
我不是学生。 (wǒ bù shì xué shēng) — I’m not a student.
他不是医生。 (tā bù shì yī shēng) — He’s not a doctor.
You’d never say 我没是学生 (wǒ méi shì xué shēng). It’s incorrect because 没 isn’t used with 是.
The Ultimate Guide to Mei You (没有) in Chinese
Now that you know when to use 不 vs. 没有, let’s take a look at what 没有 actually means.
Breaking down the meaning of this important Chinese term can be a little complicated, simply because it has a few different uses.
Literally, the phrase means “to not have,” but it can also negate sentences similar to the way 不 does.
To start, there are five major uses of the word 没有 in Chinese:
- To mean “to not have”
- To express that something hasn’t happened yet
- To make comparisons
- To show nonexistence
- To deflect a compliment
Let’s dive into each meaning a bit deeper!
This TED talk by Taiwanese dancer Feng-Yi Sheu has a great example of 没有 in use. Can you spot it?
没有 Means “To Not Have”
As mentioned above, 没 is used to negate the verb 有. When put together, 没有 is the negative form of 有, so it means “to not have.”
In sentences, 没有 follows the simple structure of subject + 没有 + object.
我没有苹果。 (wǒ méi yǒu píng guǒ) — I don’t have apples.
她没有兄弟姐妹。 (tā méi yǒu xiōng dì jiě mèi) — She doesn’t have siblings.
没有 Expresses Something Hasn’t or Didn’t Happen
When you want to tell someone that you haven’t done something before, use the verb 没有.
Note that the 有 is optional here. Native speakers often omit 有 and just use 没 to negate their sentences because it’s shorter. However, you can still find 没有 in its full form in these types of sentences, so practice using both.
To create this kind of sentence, use the structure subject + 没(有) + verb.
我没(有)看这场电影。 (wǒ méi [yǒu] kàn zhè chǎng diàn yǐng) — I haven’t seen this movie/I didn’t see this movie.
我没(有)吃早饭。 (wǒ méi [yǒu] chī zǎo fàn) — I haven’t eaten breakfast/I didn’t eat breakfast.
我还没(有)想好。 (wǒ hái méi [yǒu] xiǎng hǎo) — I still haven’t made up my mind.
Keep in mind that if you want to say something hasn’t ever happened before, it’s a little bit different.
You’d use 没 or 没有 along with 过 (guò), in a sentence that’s structured like this: subject + 没(有) Verb + 过.
我没(有)看过这场电影。 (wǒ méi [yǒu] kàn guò zhè chǎng diàn yǐng) — I’ve never seen this movie before.
我没(有)吃过早饭。 (wǒ méi [yǒu] chī guò zǎo fàn) — I’ve never eaten breakfast before.
我没(有)去过中国。 (wǒ méi [yǒu] qù guò zhōng guó) — I’ve never been to China before.
没有 Makes Comparisons
When you want to compare two things or people, you can easily do so by using 没有.
Actually, the way the Chinese language uses 没有 to make comparisons is quite simple, and I really think we should adopt this sentence structure in English!
It goes like this:
Subject + 没有 + Object + Verb/Adjective/Phrase
我没有他中文说得那么好。 (wǒ méi yǒu tā zhōng wén shuō de nà me hǎo) — I don’t speak Chinese as well as him.
你没有我高。 (nǐ méi yǒu wǒ gāo) — You aren’t as tall as me.
沈阳没有北京的交通流量大。 (shěn yáng méi yǒu běi jīng de jiāo tōng liú liàng dà) — Shenyang doesn’t have as much traffic as Beijing.
火车没有飞机快。 (huǒ chē méi yǒu fēi jī kuài) — Trains aren’t as fast as airplanes.
It’s like saying “something doesn’t have something else’s blank.”
For example, instead of thinking trains aren’t as fast as airplanes, simply think trains don’t have airplanes’ fast. Or instead of thinking you aren’t as tall as me, think more like you don’t have my tall.
Chinese makes so much sense, doesn’t it?
没有 Means Something Doesn’t Exist
When something doesn’t exist, you can simply say so by using 没有. While this might sound a bit complicated, it’s easier than it looks.
Think about it: when we say “there’s no point” or “it’s useless,” we’re actually saying “a point doesn’t exist” or “a use doesn’t exist.”
Once again, we should be thanking Chinese for its simplicity!
Let’s take a look at some examples:
没有意义。 (méi yǒu yì yì) — It’s pointless. (lit. to not have a point)
我跟你没有关系。 (wǒ gēn nǐ méi yǒu guān xi) — I have nothing to do with you. (lit. I with you have no relationship)
(这)没有用。 ([zhè] méi yǒu yòng) — This/it is useless. (lit. this has no use)
没事 (méi shì) — It’s nothing/it’s fine. (lit. there’s no matter)
没有 Is Used to Deflect Compliments
Our fifth and final use of 没有 is to deflect compliments.
In Chinese culture, refusing to accept compliments is considered polite. For example, if someone tells you 你说中文说的很好 (nǐ shuō zhōng wén shuō de hěn hǎo) — you speak Chinese well, it’s considered more polite to turn down the compliment instead of responding with 谢谢 — thank you.
Traditionally, the phrase 哪里哪里 (nǎ lǐ nǎ lǐ) has been used to deflect compliments. It literally means “where, where.”
However, if you use this in the 21st century, you’ll often sound old. Or, like in my case, be laughed at.
The first conversation I ever had with a native Chinese speaker was with a tutor on italki. She told me that my Chinese was good, and I responded with 哪里哪里 like my textbook said to do.
She laughed and told me that nowadays, more people respond with phrases like 还行吧 (hái xíng ba) — it’s alright, or 没有没有 (méi yǒu méi yǒu).
A: 你唱歌唱得那么好啊！(nǐ chàng gē chàng de nà me hǎo a) — You sing so well!
B: 没有没有。(méi yǒu méi yǒu) — No, no.
Do you have those five meanings of the Chinese 没有 down?
With practice, you’ll get it soon enough. 加油 (jiā yóu) — Keep going!