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I'm trying to understand when 没有 should be used instead of 不 when negating a sentence.

Consider the example "I'm not wrong."

Why is it 没有错?

How can I know when to use 没有 when negating a sentence?

谢谢

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5 Answers 5

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This particular example is completely idiomatic. 不错 is an adjective meaning 'not bad', the negation of 错 as verb 'to wrong; to mistake' is '没有错'.

Generally 没有 is used in past tense or perfect tense to falsify a statement of fact; 不 is used in present or future tense to express (un)willingness.

没有:

你吃饭了么?Have you eaten?

我没有吃。I haven't.

不:

你吃饭么?Are you going to eat something?

我不吃。No I am not.

Another example to compare the two as answers to the same question:

Q: 他说了么?Did he tell you?

A1: 他没有说。He didn't.

A2: 他不说。He wouldn't tell me.

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I wouldn't say completely idiomatic. 错 is usually a verb meaning "to make an error" (so naturally you negate past with 没有), but it's acting as an adjective in 不错 (so naturally uses 不). The idiomatic thing is that 错 has limited use as an adjective. You can say 这是错的 or 很不错, but it's rare to see 很错. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Apr 28 '13 at 23:28
    
@StumpyJoePete You're right. I didn't expand on 'part of speech' differences. If you look at it as a whole, it is still 'completely idiomatic' because there isn't another similar word to apply the exact same rule. –  NS.X. Apr 29 '13 at 0:20
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没有 has some sense of past tense, similar to "haven't" or "didn't"

"我没有吸烟" translates similarly to "I did not smoke".

"我没有吃饭" translates similarly to "I have not eaten yet".

不 is rather neutral, and has some sense of present tense

"我不吸烟" translates to "I don't smoke", it is stating a habit or a preference

"我不吃饭" translates similarly to "I don't eat", or "I won't eat", which is slightly strange

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I just wanted to complement the other answers.

不错 has two meanings, depending on the contexts:

1) it means "quite good", where it is actually a single word, and you CAN NOT treat it as 不 negating 错.

Example: 你字写得不错啊。Your handwriting is pretty good.

2) it means "not wrong", where it is a compounded word, and you CAN think it of 不 negating 错.

Example:

A: 原来你是西毒欧阳锋. You are OuYang Feng, the West Poisoner!

B: 兄弟所言不错,在下正是欧阳锋。Yes, What you brother said is not wrong (or is right). I am OuYang Feng.

But for the 2nd meaning, I can only think of the usage in 所言不错, so this usage is very rare.

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Simply, 不错 means "quite good" in Chinese. It's a single word, not 错 with negating 不.

More examples:

  • 那个女孩长得不错. That girl is so beautiful.
  • 这道菜不错. This dish is quite delicious.

Moreover, 错 is a noun, and nouns should not appear after 不. Some verbs (usually actions like 看/听/去/吃) could appear after both 不 or 没有, but they usually have different meanings or tenses, for example:

  • 我没有回家. I didn't go home.
  • 我不回家. I won't go home.
  • 他没有看那场比赛. He didn't watch that game.
  • 他不看那场比赛. He wouldn't watch that game.
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  • 没(有) means not have
  • 不 means not

The confusion arises because 错 has multiple meanings:

  • As a noun, it can mean an error.

    没(有)错 means have no error. Or idiomatically, not wrong.

  • As an adjective, it can mean bad.

    不错 means not bad. This adjective is always used with 不 in front.

(有) is usually omitted in conversation.

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Isn't the usual use a verb? 我错了,你没错,etc. Also, it is an adj in 不错, but it has some very curious restrictions (how often do you see 很错?) that make it a little different than 不 + normal ADJ. –  Stumpy Joe Pete May 2 '13 at 6:30
    
@StumpyJoePete, no, 错 as a verb means some other things e.g. to separate 〈动 9〉. 我错了,你没错 is actually a shortened representation of 我(知道)错了,你没(做)错. Both 《在线新华字典》 and 《汉典》list 错 as a noun to mean an error, not a verb. I don't think 很错 is a proper phrase for very bad, that is why I wrote that this adjective (listed as one in both dictionaries) is always used in conjunction with 不. –  Question Overflow May 2 '13 at 7:00
    
Interesting. To clarify, you're saying that in my examples, is considered a shortened form of 做错? In that case, is acting as a verb, although not the way I had imagined (Note that in both 我错了 and 你没错, is the predicate). –  Stumpy Joe Pete May 2 '13 at 21:38
    
What I am trying to say is that in Chinese, word omissions are common when the meaning is obvious. appears to act as a verb because the verbs 知道 and are omitted from the sentence. Chinese is not just a pro-drop language. In fact, whole predicate can be dropped, not just the pronoun. –  Question Overflow May 3 '13 at 3:09
    
I'm still not getting it. In 我(知道)错了, it looks like that's the same as 我知道我错了 to me. In order for to be a N, it would have to mean "I know (an) error", not "I know that I erred (i.e., made a mistake)"; In the other scenario: 你没(做)错, I see it as an ADJ acting as a complement (结果补语) to the V (i.e., 做错写错 are like 听懂 or 打砸). Notice that you can add an object, so it doesn't make sense for it to be a N: 我写错作业. –  Stumpy Joe Pete May 3 '13 at 3:30
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