Using "er" to explain contrasting ideas
The conjunction 而 (ér) is used to connect two sentences that are related to each other, and is also frequently used to emphasize contrast between two parts of the sentence. Used in this way, it can be translated as "but rather." 而 is often used in more formal or literary language, but is also common in everyday speech.
Start with 是
Frequently you'll see the pattern in one of these two more specific forms involving the verb 是:
Strictly speaking, the 而 isn't required in either of these patterns, but it makes the contrast super clear.
- 我们 是 来 办事 的 ，而 不 是 来 玩 的 。We're here to do work, not to have fun.
- 以后 后悔 的 人 不 是 我，而 是 你 自己。The person to later regret this won't be me. It will be you.
- 你 这样 做 是 害 他 ，而 不 是 帮 他 。By doing this you were hurting him, not helping him.
- 不好意思 ，我 是 不 小心 ，而 不 是 故意 的 。I'm sorry. It was an accident. It wasn't on purpose.
- 现在 要 做 的 不 是 责怪 谁 错 了，而 是 怎么 解决。Now is not the time to place blame, but rather to figure out how to resolve this.
- 我 没 说 不 是 因为 想 骗 你 ，而 是 怕 你 不 高兴 。I didn't tell you not because I wanted to deceive you, but rather I was afraid you would be upset.
- 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 you, it's that I have no way to help you.
- 重要 的 不是 你 的 外表 ，而是 你 的 内心 。What's important is not how you look on the outside, but rather what's on the inside.
- 生活 中 不是 缺少 美 ，而是 缺少 发现 美 的 眼睛 。It's not that life is lacking in beauty, but rather that we lack eyes that discover it.
Sentence 1， + 而 + Sentence 2
- 我 今天 去 你 家 找 你 了，而 你 不 在 家。I went to your home today looking for you, but you weren't there.
- 孩子 发烧 很 严重，而 你 一点 都 不 关心。Your child has a very severe fever, and yet you don't seem at all concerned.
- 她 在 公司 很 受 欢迎，而 我 并 不 喜欢 她。She is very popular in our company, but I don't like her at all.
As you can see, 而 comes between the two to stress the contrast.
- "On the contrary" with "fan'er"
- Conceding a point with "shi"
- Expressing "not only… but also"
- Two words for "but"
- Using "because" with "er" to indicate effect
Sources and Further Reading
- HSK Standard Course 4上 (pp. 22) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 1 (pp. 343-4) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- 卓越汉语－公司实战篇 (pp. 128, 200) 卓越汉语－公司实战篇 →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 1 (pp. 277) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 4 (新实用汉语课本4) (pp. 20) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课下册） (pp. 516) [ →buy]
- Yale Chinese Usage Dictionary: Usage of 而