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Affirmative-negative question

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Also known as: 正反问句 (zhèng-fǎn wènjù) and alternative questions.

A common way to form questions in Chinese is to first use a verb in the positive, then repeat the same verb in its negative form, similar to how in English we can say, "Do you have money or not?" or "Have you or have you not been to the park?" This sentence pattern feels a lot more natural in Chinese than those admittedly awkward English equivalents, however.

Verb-Not-Verb

Structure

Verb + 不 + Verb

Examples

  • 是 不 是Shì bu shì?Is it (or not)?
  • 他们 来 不 来Tāmen lái bu lái?Are they going to come or not?
  • 想 不 想 我 ? xiǎng bu xiǎng wǒ?Do you or do you not miss me?
  • 我们 要 去 酒吧, 你 去 不 去Wǒmen yào qù jiǔbā, nǐ qù bu qù?We are going to the bar. Do you want to go?
  • 我 去 买 咖啡 ,你 要 不 要Wǒ qù mǎi kāfēi, nǐ yào bu yào?I'm going to buy coffee. Do you want some?

Note that the question provides the listener with both possible answers: it's either "Verb" or "不 (bù) Verb."

Verb-Not-Verb with an Object

Structure

If you want to add an object after the verb, the general sentence structure is:

Subj. + Verb + 不 + Verb + Obj.

Examples

  • 回 不 回 家? huí bu huíjiā?Are you coming back home or not?
  • 吃 不 吃 鱼? chī bu chī yú?Does she eat fish?
  • 你们 要 不 要 米饭? Nǐmen yào bu yào mǐfàn?Do you want rice?
  • 你爸爸 喝 不 喝 酒? Nǐ bàba ​hē bu hējiǔ?Does your dad drink alcohol or not?
  • 今天 老板 来 不 来 办公室?Jīntiān lǎobǎn lái bu lái bàngōngshì?Is the boss coming to the office today?


Adjective-Not-Adjective

Structure

It can also be done with adjectives (adjectives often behave like verbs in Chinese):

Adj. + 不 + Adj.

Examples

  • 好 不 好Literally, "good or not good?"Hǎo bu hǎo?Is it good?
  • 热 不 热Rè bu rè?Is it hot?
  • 帅 不 帅 shuài bu shuài?Is he handsome?
  • 这里 的 咖啡 贵 不 贵Zhèlǐ de kāfēi gùi bu gùi?Is the coffee expensive here?
  • 中国 菜 辣 不 辣Zhōngguó cài là bu là?Is Chinese food spicy?

Again, the question provides the listener with both possible answers: it's either "Adjective" or "不 (bù) Adjective."

These are something like adding tag questions in English, in this case "Are you an adult or not?" If you wanted to translate it very literally, it would be, "Are you or are you not an adult?" In any case, the structure is a very common way to ask questions in Chinese.

Two-Character Verbs and Adjectives

All of the verbs used so far have been single-character verbs. Using two-characters verbs in affirmative-negative questions is slightly trickier. You usually put 不 (bù) after just the first character, then put the entire verb. For example 喜不喜欢 (xǐ bu xǐhuan) is the usual question form of 喜欢 (xǐhuan). You can repeat the whole two-character verb twice, but it's more common (and more elegant) to insert 不 (bù) after the first character (and the same is generally true of two-character adjectives).

Structure

It can be done with verbs:

[First Character of Verb] + 不 + Verb

It can also be done with adjectives:

[First Character of Adj.] + 不 + Adj.

Examples

  • 喜欢 不 喜欢whole word repeatedXǐhuan bu xǐhuan?Do you like it?
  • 喜 不 喜欢only the first character repeatedXǐ bu xǐhuan?Do you like it?
  • 高兴 不 高兴whole word repeatedGāoxìng bu gāoxìng?Are you happy?
  • 高 不 高兴only the first character repeatedGāo bu gāoxìng?Are you happy?
  • 他 女朋友 漂亮 不 漂亮whole word repeated Tā nǚpéngyou piàoliang bu piàoliang?Is his girlfriend pretty?
  • 他 女朋友 漂 不 漂亮only the first character repeatedTā nǚpéngyou piào bu piàoliang?Is his girlfriend pretty?
  • 中国 菜 好吃 不 好吃whole word repeatedZhōngguó cài hǎochī bu hǎochī?Is Chinese food good?
  • 中国 菜 好 不 好吃only the first character repeatedZhōngguó cài hǎo bu hǎochī?Is Chinese food good?
  • 那 个 地方 好玩 不 好玩whole word repeatedNàge dìfang hǎowán bu hǎowán?Is that place fun?
  • 那 个 地方 好 不 好玩only the first character repeated Nàge dìfang hǎo bu hǎowán?Is that place fun?

有 (yǒu) Is a Special Case

Structure

Because the verb 有 (yǒu) is negated with 没 (méi) and not 不 (bù), the structure for affirmative-negative questions with 有 (yǒu) is:

Subj. + 有 没有 + Obj.

The possible answers are: "有 (yǒu)" or "没有 (méiyǒu)."

The questions could be be asking about current possession ("Do you have it or not?"), or to ask about verbs in the past ("Did you do it or not?").

Examples

  • 你 哥哥 有 没有 女 朋友?Nǐ gēge yǒu méiyǒu nǚpéngyou?Does your older brother have a girlfriend?
  • 你们 有 没有 孩子? Nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu háizi?Do you have children?
  • 奶奶 有 没有 坐 过 飞机? Nǎinai yǒu méiyǒu zuò guo fēijī?Has grandma been on a plane?
  • 有 没有 上 过 大学?yǒu méiyǒu shàng guo dàxué?Has he been to college?

See also

Sources and further reading

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