- 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.
- 1 Verb-Not-Verb
- 2 Verb-Not-Verb with an Object
- 3 Adjective-Not-Adjective
- 4 Two-Character Verbs and Adjectives
- 5 有 (yǒu) Is a Special Case
- 6 See also
- 7 Sources and further reading
Verb + 不 + Verb
- 是 不 是 ？ Is it (or not)?
- 他们 来 不 来 ？ Are they going to come or not?
- 你 想 不 想 我 ？ Do you or do you not miss me?
- 我们 要 去 酒吧， 你 去 不 去？We are going to the bar. Do you want to go?
- 我 去 买 咖啡 ，你 要 不 要 ？ 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
If you want to add an object after the verb, the general sentence structure is:
Subj. + Verb + 不 + Verb + Obj.
- 你 回 不 回 家？ Are you coming back home or not?
- 她 吃 不 吃 鱼？ Does she eat fish?
- 你们 要 不 要 米饭？ Do you want rice?
- 你爸爸 喝 不 喝 酒？ Does your dad drink alcohol or not?
- 今天 老板 来 不 来 办公室？Is the boss coming to the office today?
It can also be done with adjectives (adjectives often behave like verbs in Chinese):
Adj. + 不 + Adj.
- 好 不 好 ？Literally, "good or not good?"Is it good?
- 热 不 热 ？Is it hot?
- 他 帅 不 帅 ？Is he handsome?
- 这里 的 咖啡 贵 不 贵 ？ Is the coffee expensive here?
- 中国 菜 辣 不 辣 ？ 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).
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.
- 喜欢 不 喜欢？whole word repeatedDo you like it?
- 喜 不 喜欢？only the first character repeatedDo you like it?
- 高兴 不 高兴？whole word repeatedAre you happy?
- 高 不 高兴？only the first character repeatedAre you happy?
- 他 女朋友 漂亮 不 漂亮？whole word repeatedIs his girlfriend pretty?
- 他 女朋友 漂 不 漂亮？only the first character repeatedIs his girlfriend pretty?
- 中国 菜 好吃 不 好吃？whole word repeatedIs Chinese food good?
- 中国 菜 好 不 好吃？only the first character repeatedIs Chinese food good?
- 那 个 地方 好玩 不 好玩？whole word repeatedIs that place fun?
- 那 个 地方 好 不 好玩？only the first character repeatedIs that place fun?
有 (yǒu) Is a Special Case
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?").
- 你 哥哥 有 没有 女 朋友？Does your older brother have a girlfriend?
- 你们 有 没有 孩子？ Do you have children?
- 奶奶 有 没有 坐 过 飞机？ Has grandma been on a plane?
- 他 有 没有 上 过 大学？Has he been to college?
Sources and further reading
- Yoyo Chinese: Verb-not-verb Questions
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 141-4) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 86, 102-4) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1) (pp. 87) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1)(2nd ed) (pp. 102, 250-1) →buy