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Ok so I recently heard the phrase on a tv show


I kind of intuitively understand in the context that it meant that not even 400元 could buy the flowers that they were discussing.

However, exactly how this grammar works I'm not sure.What is the construction here and how is it used?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Actually your interpretation is not exactly correct(Although pretty close). The sentence means 400 yuan will be approximately sufficient(still probably a little bit too high or too low) to buy the stuff.

This is quite an oral expression(more commonly seen in northern China). But you can interpret it this way: “拿下来” means "get/fetch/catch something", a connotation which can also be expanded to "buy something"(e.g. get the ownership of something). In this sentence, “下来” can be seen as a shorthand for “拿下来”. And therefore “下不来” is "unable to get", the "不" in the sentence signifying negation(cannot, unable to). And the whole sentence therefore is "Without (at least) 400 yuan you cannot buy it". This should now make sense to you.

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ah right, I see so the 没 actually means without. Do the following make sense? 有四百块拿下来 (if you have 400 you can buy it), or 没四白拿下来 (without 400 you could still buy it) – Samuel Parsonage Apr 19 '14 at 2:07
Not exactly... Since this is a very oral expression, we don't really have such variations in our daily lives. If I want to say "if you have 400 you can buy it", I'd probably say “就四百”/“四百就够” or simply “四百”. If I want to say "without 400 you could still buy it", I'd say “没四百”/“要不了四百”, or simply “没那么贵”/”要不了“, if another person already asked ”要四百“? – JI Xiang Apr 19 '14 at 16:27
Of course, we'd still probably understand your sentences, but they sound a bit weird, mainly because they lack conjunctions. I would say ”有四百就*(能)拿下来“ and ”没四百也*(能)拿下来. Here “就” roughly means "already", "is enough", and “也” roughly means "still" – JI Xiang Apr 19 '14 at 16:29
I don't understand how this indicate approximate sufficiency instead of a lower bound. In practice nobody uses exact math of course. But this is separate from the sentence pattern. – abcs Apr 25 '14 at 13:16
It may indicate "lower bound" in a strict sense but in daily life the one who spoke this sentence is just giving an approximation of the item.(If the exact price is already known then they would not say it this way). Although they guess it would be approximately 400, in reality it could well be 350, for example. Therefore to say it's lower bound is not exact IMO. – JI Xiang Apr 25 '14 at 19:09

I would parse the sentence as 没四百,下不来, meaning roughly, "Without 400, it won't come down." The latter would be in the "auction" sense, where the seller hammers the anvil, and says "sold."

The sense is something like, "400 [yuan, dollars, etc.] will just about do it." (Certainly not less, maybe a bit more, to close the deal.)

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没四百下不来 : You can not get it without 400

The contrapositive of the statement:

想拿下来至少得四百 : In order to get it, you need to spend at least 400.

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