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Expressing "not… but…" with "er shi"

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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. This is a useful phrase to use in arguments to overturn a point of view and state the opposite.

Structure

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⋯⋯

Examples

  • 我觉得 这 不是 麻烦, 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 不 想 买 ,而是 买不起 。bù shì bù xiǎng mǎi, ér shì mǎi bu qǐ.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 。Wǒ méi shuō bù shì xiǎng piàn nǐ, ér 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.
  • 不是 八卦 , 关心 你 。bù shì bāguà, shì guānxīn nǐ.I'm not gossiping. I'm concerned about you.
  • 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, it's that I can't help.
  • 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.

You can also put 不是 in the second half. Note that 而 can't be used in this case.

Subj. + 是⋯⋯ ,不是⋯⋯

Some examples:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 不好意思 ,我 不 小心 ,不是 故意 的 。Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ shì bù xiǎoxīn, bù shì gùyì de.I'm sorry. It was an innocent mistake. I didn't mean to do that.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books