Please help me clarify the difference between the two phrases: I thought that 睡不着 means that you cannot fall asleep (可能补语) for example: 我经常失眠, 睡不着觉。 and that 没睡着 means that you didn't sleep (结果补语) for example: 牙疼死了, 一夜没睡着。

But there were also examples like
昨晚我一夜睡不着 is it the same meaning as 没睡着?

"睡不著" implies that you want to sleep but you cannot, while "沒睡著" just means that you did not fall asleep. So if you say "昨晚我一夜沒睡著" you could mean that you successfully kept yourself awake all night last night, which is apparently different from "昨晚我一夜睡不着".

Actually, although "牙疼死了,一夜沒睡着" is OK, "牙疼死了,一夜睡不著" is better.

  • does that mean that 睡不着 can also be used for past events ? – Meimei May 18 '16 at 14:11
  • Yes, "昨晚我一夜睡不着" is an example. And it can also be used for current or future events, like "現在太亮了,睡不著", and "下午喝了五杯咖啡,今天晚上一定睡不著". – ycsun May 19 '16 at 4:28

As you may know there are verbs that can be formed by two character. Let's indicate it with V1V2

The patterns:

V1不V2 means I can't/I am not able to...

没V1V2 means I didn't...

So 睡不着 I am not able to sleep, while 没睡着 is I didn't sleep.

explanation You may now wonder, why there is a difference? Is it more of a convention that one pattern is translated this way rather than the other way?

No, if we try to translate the meaning literally, we obtain:

I (try to) sleep but I don't fall

Or similarly for 看不到

I look but my gaze doesn't reach

For the other pattern instead, we have a straight negation,

So there is only way to translate it:

I didn't fall asleep or I didn't manage to look.

This should help you understand a first difference between these two patters but as you can see with 看到 the difference is even more subtle.

Remember now the difference between 不 and 没。不 is a negation for the present while 没 is a negation for the past.

  • "不 is a negation for the present while 没 is a negation for the past." I believe this is wrong. – goPlayerJuggler Mar 8 '17 at 11:03

I come from Taiwan. Actually “睡不着” and "没睡着“ is the same means. Means that I did not sleep!

But they had some different. “睡不着” means I want to sleep but I can't fall into sleep! "没睡着“ means I am trying to sleep but I not fall into sleep!

睡不着 means cannot fall asleep, while 没睡着 is the state of not falling alseep.

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