I know that a typical way to negate a verb is to stick 不 in front of it. But I learned some phrases that use 别 instead: 别担心, 别客气 and so on, all of them in short polite fixed phrases. I know that I could change 别 into 不 in those phrases too.

So what's the difference between those words?

  • Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you started. – Tom Au Feb 4 at 20:18 – Tom Au Feb 10 '12 at 1:24

不 means "not" and 别 means "do not." One is a simple negation, and the other is a (negative) command.

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    To add more background to this answer, it might help if you know that 别 is actually a contraction of 不要. (Note that this usage is separate from the original usage of 别 meaning "other".) – Claw Feb 4 '12 at 20:33
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    Don't forget, @Claw, you can also add your own answer if you have extra information. – Don Kirkby Feb 5 '12 at 6:13
  • @DonKirkby: Yep, I'm aware; I just felt that my supplement didn't add significantly more information to merit it's own response and that Tom's response sufficiently answered the question anyway. – Claw Feb 5 '12 at 20:13
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    @Claw Where did you learn that? I'm curious. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jun 22 '12 at 9:27
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    @StumpyJoePete: I don't exactly remember where I learned it, but I've seen it variously mentioned by teachers and on the Internet. Interestingly, in trying to find a more authoritative source, I came upon a paper (dspace.xmu.edu.cn/dspace/bitstream/2288/1220/1/…) that acknowledges the common belief that 别 is a contraction 不要, but instead argues that it is actually a contraction of 不必. – Claw Jun 23 '12 at 21:02

Put it in simple words: 不 means "not" while 别 means "don't do something", it is also good to compare them with another negation word:没有, which literally means lack of the action:having, so in other words it means don't have or doesn't have. Don't forget in Chinese we don't conjugate the verbs.

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