Expressing "on the contrary" with "fan'er"
反而 (fǎn'ér) is used to express "on the contrary" or "in contrast," with 反而 appearing as part of the second part of the sentence. Note that the meaning of 反而 goes beyond just "but" and is usually used to explain that something is totally the opposite of what one was expecting.
Normally the first clause makes a statement, and then the second clause introduces the part that is totally opposite of one's expectations. The word "actually" may be helpful in some translations.
⋯⋯ ，Subj. + 反而 + [Unexpected Outcome]
It's also important to point out that 反而 is not a conjunction; it's an adverb. Practically speaking, this means that rather than joining two statements, it goes inside a statement (within the second clause). Specifically, it needs to come after the subject (if there is one) and before the verb. (This is different from a conjunction like 但是 which comes before the subject!) Also 反而 can appear in one sentence with 但是. Rather than replacing it, 反而 can work with 但是 to add even more contrarian emphasis.
- 吃 了 这个 药 ，病 反而 更 严重 了。After taking the medicine, the illness actually got even worse.
- 这个 新 系统 反而 降低 了 我们 的 工作 效率 。This new system actually reduced our work efficiency.
- 他 没有 放弃 ，反而 更 努力 了 ！He didn't give up; on the contrary, he worked even harder.
- 改革 反而 让 老百姓 更 不 满意 了 。Reform actually made the people less satisfied.
- 你 的 参与 反而 给 我们 带来 了 麻烦 。Your involvement is actually giving us trouble.
Common Mistake: Putting 反而 Before the Subject
Take note: when the subject of the first and second clause are the same, the subject can be omitted in the second clause (after the comma and before 反而). If there is a subject, however, 反而 definitely needs to come after it. See the simple examples below and then check the longer sentences above, confirming this rule.
- 我 帮 了 她 ， 反而 她 生气 了 。
- 我 帮 了 她 ， 她 反而 生气 了 。
Adding 不但 or 不仅 adds a sense of "not only" before the "to the contrary" part. The word "actually" can be useful here for translations into English.
⋯⋯ ，Subj. [不但 / 不仅] + [不 / 没] ⋯⋯，反而 + [Unexpected Outcome]
- 吃 了 药 ，病 不但 没 好，反而 更 严重 了。After taking the medicine, the illness not only didn't get better, but actually got even worse.
- 失败 了 这么 多 次 ，他 不但 没 放弃 ，反而 更 努力 了。Having failed so many times, he not only didn't give up, but rather worked even harder.
- 他 不但 不 帮 我 ，反而 给 我 找 麻烦 。He not only didn't help me, but rather gave me trouble.
- 你 妈妈 那么 爱 你 ，你 不但 不 感激 ，反而 说 她 不 关心 你 ？Your mother loves you so much, and not only are you not grateful, but you even say she doesn't care about you?
- 我 吃 了 减肥 药 ，不但 没 瘦 ，反而 长胖 了 ！I took a weight loss pill. Not only did I not lose weight, but rather I actually gained weight!
Sources and further reading
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 259) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 4 (新实用汉语课本4) (pp. 84) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- 卓越汉语－公司实战篇 (pp. 83, 151-2) 卓越汉语－公司实战篇 →buy
- 汉语教学: [反而]