Expressing a learned skill with "hui"
The word 会 (huì) can be used to express an ability that has been learned (a skill). In this case 会 (huì) is an auxiliary verb.
Subj. + 会 + Verb + Obj.
This structure is the easiest way to express all kinds of skills, from languages, to sports, to skills in daily life such as cooking and driving.
- 他 会 说 中文。He can speak Chinese.
- 我 会 写 汉字。I can write Chinese characters.
- 你 会 做饭 吗？Can you cook food？
- 狗 会 唱 歌 吗？Can dogs sing？
- 爸爸 会 开车。 Dad can drive.
Negating 会 (huì) Sentences
会 (huì) sentences are negated with 不 (bù), which is inserted in front of 会 (huì):
Subj. + 不 + 会 + Verb + Obj.
Again, this is the simplest way to express the lack of a learned ability. So while "can't" is a natural translation for "不会" (bù huì) in English, "don't know how to" is equally correct (and perhaps more helpful).
Also, due to a tone change rule for "不" (bù), the phrase "不会" (bù huì) is actually pronounced "bú huì."
- 我 不会 说 英文。I can't speak English.
- 妈妈 不会 做 中国 菜。Mom can't cook Chinese food.
- 你 不会 游泳 吗？You can't swim?
- 我 奶奶 不会 用 电脑。My grandmother can't use a computer.
- 你 不会 开车 吗？You can't drive a car?
Note that if we say 我不能说中文 (wǒ bù néng shuō Zhōngwén), the speaker is saying that he can't speak Chinese for some reason other than his own ability, perhaps because speaking Chinese in English class is forbidden.
Sources and further reading
- HSK Standard Course 1 (pp. 42) 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 219-20) 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1) (pp. 160-1, 200) 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1)(2nd ed) (pp. 185-7, 228) 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy