I know we can negate place, manner, etc. by just placing a 不 before the verbs (prepositions) that introduce the clauses.


But how can I negate time, since it doesn't have a verb/preposition before it?
For example: I wake up not at 8am, but at 9am.
Would I have to place a 在 before the time?


Would this be the only mandatory 在 when we talk about time or are there other situations it's required?

Thank you for any help!

  • I would just say 我8点没起床, 我是9点起来的. But then again there are many ways to say that one sentence. You can also say 我8点不起床, 我9点起床. I have only completed elementary school in China, so I don't know the in and outs of grammar, but both ways I have listed makes sense to me.
    – Huangism
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 17:49
  • @Huangism Thank you for your answer, but I think my example wasn't exactly was I was trying to say, and I just edited it (I wake up not at 8am, but at 9am.) When I read your sentences I have a feeling that you are negating 起床 not 8点. What do you think about the translation of the new example? Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 19:26
  • I personally would translate that to 我8点不起床, 我9点起床. Again, my chinese isn't the best so I don't know 100% which way to say this is grammatically correct. However, I find it best to learn a language through conversing/watching tv/listening to radio. Basically that gives you the chance to learn how the locals talk. I asked my wife how to say this, she is much better at Mandarin than I am
    – Huangism
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 19:34
  • 1
    My wife says it should be 我不是8点起床,我9点起床。So instead of 在, use 是, as Drunken Master have it in his answer. It's posted at the same time as this comment
    – Huangism
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 19:36
  • @Huangism Your wife is right, check also my answer.
    – imrek
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


I am a bit confused by the 在 in your example sentence, since you don't need it there, 我不在8点起床,我(在?)9点起床。 Frankly, I wouldn't know what this sentence was supposed to mean, if you hadn't provided a translation. If you want to express that something occures at a certain time of the day, e.g. X o'clock, there is no need for 在, just use X点 or X点钟.

As for the proper way:


不是 can be used for such cases, to negate a certain aspect and then to point out the correct aspect immediately afterwards. E.g.

我不是骑车上班,我坐出租车上班。 I do not ride the bicyle to work, I take a taxi.

EDIT: I can still recall the first time I had learned this 不是 structure and I was confused by it since it sounded odd to me. To get an idea of the difference between 我8点不起床。 and 我不是8点起床。, you have to understand that the first sentence simplay negates the whole statment, while the latter sentence negates only the aspect that is immediately after 不是.

The given translation in this answer is an example of the "是...的" pattern for emphasizing a particular aspect of a phrase. It is not specific to time; for instance:


I didn't eat with my friends, I ate with my parents.

  • Apart from my question of time, once I had a native Chinese speaker saying that he felt that when you negate the first clause of the sentence you end up negating the whole sentence without any "special marking". Compare: 我不在学校跟我同学一起学习汉语。I don't study Chinese with my classmate at school. (neutral negation) 我在学校不跟我同学一起学习汉语。I study Chinese at school not with my classmate (but with someone else). 我在学校跟我同学不学习汉语。I don't study (I do something else) with my classmate at school. Do you agree with his opinion? Cheers Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 1:36
  • @EnricoBrasil More or less correct. But 不学习汉语 is too long, use 不学汉语 or 学汉语 if you are not negating.
    – imrek
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 12:06
  • What's not correct? How do you perceive the difference between the 3 sentences? Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 13:24
  • 1
    @EnricoBrasil, it is true that negating 在 could be misunderstood as negating the whole sentence rather than only the clause that 在 precedes. This is why we use 是 as a coverb. The function of 是 as a coverb is similar to that of the meaningless "do" in English. We use "do" in English not to add any meaning to a sentence but rather to either emphasize or negate a verb. Same as 是: 我在学校跟同学学汉语=I at school with my friends study Chinese. 我是在学校跟同学学汉语 = I [emphatic] at school with... 我在学校是跟同学...=I at school [emphatic] with... Negating 是 in any of those to negates only the clause that 是 precedes.
    – Buddy L
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 18:19

You may certainly use 在 to reference time, and you can negate it thus:


You do need to use 是 though, otherwise 不在 will take on the meaning of existence or location.

However, using 没 is more common: 八点还没起来,而九点才起来。

In both cases you are not negating time itself, but the action taking place at a certain time.

This is logical, in any language, even in your example, as you just make a trick with word order. Your "not" still references your action of waking up, not the time itself.

Search, and you will find instances of 不在 + time: 为什么世界杯不在八点放?

In my mind, this is rather ungrammatical, though, or a short form of 不是在.

  • I think 我8点没有起床 negates the action 起床, instead of negating the time. Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 2:21
  • I'm sorry. So you think negating time does need to be a 不是在 + time or just a 不是 + time is enough? Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 13:22
  • 八点没起床 refers to the past. If Enrico wants to speak about his habitual wake up time, as in "usually I don't wake up at 8, but rather at 9", then 八点没起来 is incorrect.
    – Buddy L
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 18:21

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