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I have been having problems knowing when to use either 不错 or 没错. I think 不错 means 'great'; and 没错 means no mistake.

Which should be used to:

(a) praise somebody's work?
(b) indicate nothing wrong with the food/article/etc?
(c) approval or agreement with somebody's statement/idea?

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You'd better not abbreviate somebody to SB when your readers are Chinese, because currently SB (傻屄/傻逼/煞笔/傻比/any homophonic words) is a quite offensive word used by many Chinese netizens to say a person is a sucker/idiot/etc. –  Stan Jun 6 '13 at 13:14
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@Stan I don't think it's a problem. Well-educated people won't use this kind of words too often. –  Mike Manilone Jun 6 '13 at 15:49
    
@Stan Good point. I expanded it. Seriously, how difficult is it to write a few extra letters. I actually had no idea what SB meant (I've seen it written in lowercase, but never uppercase). –  deutschZuid Jun 6 '13 at 23:21
    
@MikeManilone: just an advice for avoiding misunderstanding ... in fact, this word is the first one running into my eyes when I open this page and making me feel confused for a few seconds :) –  Stan Jun 7 '13 at 7:20
    
Thanks Stan for the warning. I read amorimluc's question and it helped me some but I was still unclear. NS.X.'s answer, while complete, only explained the difference between 不 and 没有 and Question Overflow's addressed the meaning of 错. However in what situations to use each was still unclear, which is why I asked this question. NS.X.'s answer to this question is superb, ignoring the basic meanings of 不 and 没有, they clearly explain with examples when to use each. –  tao Jun 8 '13 at 9:40
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marked as duplicate by Claw, Cocowalla, Alenanno Jun 8 '13 at 9:17

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You already got the idea. To answer the situational questions:

(a) praise somebody's work?

Use 不错. If you use 没错, it means the content of the work is right.

他文章写得不错。He writes good articles.

他文章写的没错。What is written in his article is right.

(b) indicate nothing wrong with the food/article/etc?

Neither. You can use 不错 to praise the taste or the quality of the food. 没错 doesn't make sense because 'the food' is unable to make mistakes. It can be 'mistaken' in a sense of improperly cooked, gone bad or poisoned. In that case you want to say the food 有问题 (has problems) or 没问题 (no problem).

这家饭馆的食物有问题。Something's wrong with the food from this restaurant.

这家饭馆的食物没问题。There's nothing wrong with the food from this restaurant.

这家饭馆的食物不错。This restaurant makes good food.

这家饭馆的食物没错。(Doesn't make sense) The food from this restaurant didn't act wrong.

(c) approval or agreement with somebody's statement/idea?

Both can be used.

没错 expresses concurrence/agreement (not praise) to ideas and yes/no factual questions.

(Idea) “我们应该先看说明书。”“没错。” 'We should read user's manual first.' 'Right.'

(Fact) “电影是不是9点开始?”“没错。” 'Is the movie starting at 9?' 'Yes.'

没错 is seldom used for deeds. It's only used in very specific circumstances as an indifferent or perfunctory chime.

(Deed) “我把作业都写完了。”“没错。” 'I have finished my homework.' 'I know.' (Uncommon usage, may sound strange depending on the situation.)

不错 can be used to praise deeds as well as ideas.

“我把作业都写完了。”“不错!” 'I have finished my homework.' 'Great!'

不错 can also be used to express concurrence as an inherited usage from ancient Chinese. It carries a subtle connotation of provocation or defensiveness, as if this answer is unexpected by the other party or offensive.

“你一口气吃了十个冰淇淋?”“没错。” 'You ate ten ice creams at once?' 'Yes.'

“你一口气吃了十个冰淇淋?”“不错。” 'You ate ten ice creams at once?' 'Yes. (You have a problem with that?)'

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In (a), 他文章写的没错。What is written in his article is true. I think 没错 here emphasizes right/correct but not true. For example, when I say the story is true, I mean the story is based on some fact that really has happened; when I say the story is right, I likely mean what the story tells us, the logic or the philosophy, is right. There's difference between right and true. –  Stan Jun 8 '13 at 4:31
    
@Stan You're right and what you said is very true. Will edit my answer:) –  NS.X. Jun 8 '13 at 6:58
    
Yet I have one more question :) I can't imagine the scene “我把作业都写完了。” “没错。”. At least in standard Mandarin and Cantonese, I've never heard of such an indifferent or perfunctory response (the most common ones may be or 好(的) or just (我)知道了). :( Could you please cite some online resources for that? Thx ^_^ –  Stan Jun 8 '13 at 7:38
    
@Stan At a second thought I think you're right, it's not common and sound natural only in specific circumstances. I have updated the answer. For a concrete example, think of a 相声-like conversation: “我回家了”“是”“我一打开门”“没错”“我一看”“看见什么了?”…… Having used this type of conversation with my friends in Beijing from time to time, it may be my false assumption that it sounds natural to all Mandarin speakers. –  NS.X. Jun 8 '13 at 19:06
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(a)不错 (b)没错 (c)both

不错 = not so bad, quite good, emphasis on the expression of questioner.

没错 = nothing wrong, emphasis on the confirmatory meaning.

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