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The pattern "it's not…, it's…"

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Sometimes you want to explain that an object, concept, or event isn't one thing, but in fact a different thing. 不是⋯⋯, (而)是⋯⋯ (bùshì..., (ér)shì...) is the perfect structure to convey that in Chinese. An easy way to remember this pattern is that it roughly corresponds to the English, "Something is not X, it's Y."

Structure

Subj. + 不是 ⋯⋯ ,(而)是 ⋯⋯

or

Subj. + 是 ⋯⋯ ,不是 ⋯⋯

Examples

  • 我觉得 这 不是 麻烦,而是 机会 。Wǒ juéde zhè bù shì máfan, ér shì jīhuì.I don't think it's trouble. I think it's an opportunity.
  • 不是 八卦 , 关心 你 。bù shì bāguà, shì guānxīn nǐ.I'm not gossiping. I'm concerned about you.
  • 不好意思 ,我儿子 不是 故意 的 , 不 小心 。Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ érzi bù shì gùyì de, shì bù xiǎoxīn.I'm sorry. My son didn't mean to do that. It was an innocent mistake.
  • 你 这样 做 害 他 ,不是 帮 他 。Nǐ zhèyàng zuò shì hài tā, bù shì bāng tā.You were hurting him by doing this, not helping him.
  • 他 这样 做 为了 团队 ,不是 为了 自己 。Tā zhèyàng zuò shì wèile tuánduì, bù shì wèile zìjǐ.He did this for the team, not for himself.
  • 我们 来 办事 的 ,不是 来 玩 的 。Wǒmen shì lái bànshì de, bù shì lái wán de.We're here to do our job, not to have fun.
  • 不是 不 喜欢 你 ,而是 跟 你 还 不 熟 。bù shì bù xǐhuan nǐ, ér shì gēn nǐ hái bù shóu.It's not that she doesn't like you, it's just she's unacquainted with you.
  • 我 没 说 不是 想 骗 你 , 怕 你 不 高兴 。Wǒ méi shuō bù shì xiǎng piàn nǐ, shì pà nǐ bù gāoxìng.The reason why I didn't tell is not that I wanted to lie to you; it's that I'm afraid you would be upset.
  • 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 outside, it's your 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 yǎnjing.Beauty is found everywhere. To our eyes, it is not a lack of beauty but a lack of discovery.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books