Using "er" to explain contrasting ideas

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The conjunction (ér) is used to connect two sentences that are related to each other, and is also frequently used to emphasize contrast between two parts of the sentence. Used in this way, it can be translated as "but rather." 而 is often used in more formal or literary language, but is also common in everyday speech.

Start with 是

Frequently you'll see the pattern in one of these two more specific forms involving the verb :

Structure

不是……,而是……

是……,而不是……

Strictly speaking, the 而 isn't required in either of these patterns, but it makes the contrast super clear.

Examples

  • 我们 来 办事 的 ,而 不 是 来 玩 的 。Wǒmen shì lái bànshì de, ér bù shì lái wán de.We're here to do work, not to have fun.
  • 以后 后悔 的 人 不 是 我,而 是 你 自己。Yǐhòu hòuhuǐ de rén bù shì wǒ, ér shì nǐ zìjǐ.The person to later regret this won't be me. It will be you.
  • 你 这样 做 害 他 ,而 不 是 帮 他 。Nǐ zhèyàng zuò shì hài tā, ér bù shì bāng tā.By doing this you were hurting him, not helping him.
  • 不好意思 ,我 不 小心 ,而 不 是 故意 的 。Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ shì bù xiǎoxīn, ér bù shì gùyì de.I'm sorry. It was an accident. It wasn't on purpose.
  • 现在 要 做 的 不 是 责怪 谁 错 了,而 是 怎么 解决。Xiànzài yào zuò de bù shì zéguài shéi cuòle, ér shì zěnme jiějué.Now is not the time to place blame, but rather to figure out how to resolve this.
  • 我 没 说 不 是 因为 想 骗 你 ,而 是 怕 你 不 高兴 。Wǒ méi shuō bù shì yīnwèi xiǎng piàn nǐ, ér shì pà nǐ bù gāoxìng.I didn't tell you not because I wanted to deceive you, but rather I was afraid you would be upset.
  • 不 是 不 想 帮 你 ,而 是 没有 能力 帮 你 。bù shì bù xiǎng bāng nǐ, ér shì méiyǒu nénglì bāng nǐ.It's not that I don't want to help you, it's that I have no way to help you.
  • 重要 的 不是 你 的 外表 ,而是 你 的 内心 。Zhòngyào de bù shì nǐ de wàibiǎo, ér shì nǐ de nèixīn.What's important is not how you look on the outside, but rather what's on the inside.
  • 生活 中 不是 缺少 美 ,而是 缺少 发现 美 的 眼睛 。Shēnghuó zhōng bù shì quēshǎo měi, ér shì quēshǎo fāxiàn měi de yǎnjīng.It's not that life is lacking in beauty, but rather that we lack eyes that discover it.

Generalized Pattern

Structure

Sentence 1, + 而 + Sentence 2

Examples

  • 我 今天 去 你 家 找 你 了, 你 不 在 家。Wǒ jīntiān qù nǐ jiā zhǎo nǐ le, ér nǐ bù zài jiā.I went to your home today looking for you, but you weren't there.
  • 孩子 发烧 很 严重, 你 一点 都 不 关心。Hái zǐ fāshāo hěn yánzhòng, ér nǐ yīdiǎn dōu bù guānxīn.Your child has a very severe fever, and yet you don't seem at all concerned.
  • 她 在 公司 很 受 欢迎, 我 并 不 喜欢 她。Tā zài gōngsī hěn shòu huānyíng, ér wǒ bìng bù xǐhuān tā.She is very popular in our company, but I don't like her at all.

As you can see, 而 comes between the two to stress the contrast.

See Also

Sources and Further Reading

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