Expressing "not… but…" with "er shi"
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. This is a useful phrase to use in arguments to overturn a point of view and state the opposite.
An easy way to remember this pattern is that it roughly corresponds to the English, "Something is not X, it's Y."
Subj. + 不是⋯⋯ ，(而)是⋯⋯
- 我觉得 这 不是 麻烦，是 机会 。I don't think it's trouble. I think it's an opportunity.
- 她 不是 不 想 买 ，而是 买不起 。It's not that she doesn't want to buy it, it's that she couldn't afford it.
- 我 没 说 不是 想 骗 你 ，而是 怕 你 不 高兴 。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.
- 我 不是 八卦 ，是 关心 你 。I'm not gossiping. I'm concerned about you.
- 我 不 是 不 想 帮 你 ，而是 没有 能力 帮 你 。It's not that I don't want to help, it's that I can't help.
- 重要 的 不是 你 的 外表 ，而是 你 的 内心 。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 。Beauty is found everywhere. To our eyes, it is not a lack of beauty but a lack of discovery.
You can also put 不是 in the second half. Note that 而 can't be used in this case.
Subj. + 是⋯⋯ ，不是⋯⋯
- 我们 是 来 办事 的 ，不是 来 玩 的 。We're here to do our job, not to have fun.
- 你 这样 做 是 害 他 ，不是 帮 他 。You were hurting him by doing this, not helping him.
- 不好意思 ，我 是 不 小心 ，不是 故意 的 。I'm sorry. It was an innocent mistake. I didn't mean to do that.
Sources and further reading
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 1 (pp. 277) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 4 (新实用汉语课本4) (pp. 20) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课下册） (pp. 516) →buy