I was reviewing some old Anki cards that I created from HSK Standard Course 1 by Jiang Liping and I came across this dialogue:

A: 喂你在做什么呢
B: 我在看书呢
A: 大卫也在看书吗
B: 他没看书。他在学做中国菜呢

A: Hello, what are you doing?
B: I'm reading
A: Is David also reading?
B: He isn't reading. He's learning to cook Chinese food.

I am unclear on the use of 没 in the sentence 他没看书.

I had previously been taught that when it comes to verbs, 没 only negates 有 and 不 negates all other verbs. See for example this answer which makes the same claim.

Being aware that 没 can also be used in other situations I consulted Comparing "bu" and "mei" on Chinese Grammar Wiki, but could not seem to find a rule there that covers the use of 没 in this scenario in a way that is consistent with the dialogue.

Finally, I turned to Google Translate and got the following results:

他没看书 - He did not read books

他不看书 - He does not read books

This would seem to suggest that the book is wrong and that their version indicates past tense, whereas the English translation indicates present continuous (which is consistent with the rest of the dialogue).

What is going on? Is the book incorrect, or is there a legitimate reason that 没 is used here instead of 不?

  • often discussed at this site before, see previous Q&A,search site e.g. using "不 没"chinese.stackexchange.com/search?q=%E4%B8%8D+%E6%B2%A1
    – user6065
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 4:21
  • @user6065 I'm aware of that, but the questions are often more general such as "what is the difference between 不 and 没", and this invites answers which often ignore the subtleties or contradict one another because they tackle differing points. For example this answer does not explain the usage in this question, and contrast the overly simplified explanation there with the much richer set of examples in the Chinese Grammer Wiki entry.
    – JBentley
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 4:36
  • 1
    "没 only negates 有 and 不" is certainly wrong, grammars agree with google, 不 is used for present or describing habit, indicating dislike of certain action, as author says translation "isn't reading" may be justified by what follows, but there would seem nothing wrong with google's translation even in the present case, possibly rephrased as "has not been reading"
    – user6065
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 5:53
  • 我在看书(呢), negative sentence: 他没有在看书 or 他没在看书. 他没看书 is ambiguous, may be 他没在看书 or 他没看过书.
    – xenophōn
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 7:42
  • 他不看书,means that he don't want to read book, not he is not reading book. Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 11:25

3 Answers 3


The opposite of "他没看书" (he did not/has not read books) is "他有看书" (he did/ has read books)- 没(has not) here replaces the adverb 有(has)- to indicate 'absent' of the action

The opposite of "他不看书" (he does not read) is "他看书" (he does read)- 不 here modifies the verb 看书 (read) into its negative form 不看书 (does not read) - to indicate 'refusal' of the action


A: 喂你在做什么呢

B: 我在看书呢

A: 大卫也在看书吗

B: 他没看书。他在学做中国菜呢

Since A asked B "what are you doing" and B replied " I am reading" and then A asked "is David also reading book (implying 'now')?" we can conclude B's answer of what David is doing should be in the same tense as the answer on what B himself is doing, and that was 'present progressive'

The correct answer should be "他没(在)看书。他在学做中国菜呢"*

"他没看书" doesn't indicate specific tense (it can be past or present because 他没看书 only states the absent of the action), while 他没看书 also only indicates a progressive/ continuous tense.

One thing I stated many times, Chinese verbs do not have tense, 没看 and 不看 do not indicate any tense, while 没有看 indicate 'perfect tense'; 没在看 indicates 'progressive tense'

The reason we know it is in present progressive tense, is we learned it in the context that A is asking B in present tense.

If B answered "他不看书"(he doesn't read - refusal of the action) then it would mean David never read book, and the sentence would be in present tense.


That is really a good question. For English, it could use "not" in both two situations. In my own opinion, you should get contextual analysis. A is asking David's activity, so the correct answer is 他没(在)看书. If inquire David's interests or habits, then the answer is 他不(喜欢)看书。

Hope it is clear.


This is a very good question and I upvoted. I might not have a great answer but like to give it a shot.

他没看书 == 他没有看书 is used to state a fact he didn't/doesn't read books.

他不看书, depending on contexts, could mean:

  1. He doesn't want to read books. Or he is not willing to read books.

  2. He won't read books.

  3. He is a kind of person who doesn't read books.

In your context, A was asking if David was reading books. B answered with 他没看书, which told A the fact that David was not reading books. Here B omitted 在. He could have said 他没在看书 or 他没有在看书 instead.

A: 大卫也在看书吗?

B: 他没看书。or 他没在看书。

My two cents.

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