In Chinese, 不可, 不要, and 别 can all mean "don't". I am wondering about the differences between them.

For example these sentences: 1. 不可吃。 2 别哭了。 3 你不要打扰!

  • Sorry, I forgot to remove translation tag, I previously add I because I also ask for 不可 is passive. Jul 4, 2013 at 1:38
  • 2
    The short form 不可 is very formal, so in spoken language, it's usually followed by some formal words, e.g. 不可放肆, 有何不可, 不可不知, 妙不可言, etc. We don't say 不可吃 in daily life (we say 不可以吃 instead), as it sounds old-style. Well you may find many 不可s in the Bible, "唯独肉带着血,那就是它的生命,你们不可吃。 " But it's better not to learn modern Chinese from the Bible.
    – Stan
    Jul 4, 2013 at 4:09
  • @Stan Usually 不可 isn't used in spoken lang. Translation of the Bible just imitates some tone in classical Chinese (文言文).
    – halfelf
    Jul 12, 2013 at 8:42
  • @halfelf that's just "talking like a book", I think it would be never a serious problem, if you don't use it too often.
    – Stan
    Jul 12, 2013 at 10:31

2 Answers 2


不可, in the context of your question, is short for 不可以, which means "can't", not "don't".

不可吃 means "can't eat", perhaps it is inedible or passed expiry date.

不要 and 别 both mean "don't", but 不要 is stronger and more instructive than 别, example:

公共场所,请不要喧哗 (please don't make loud noises in public spaces)

不要 can be placed at the end of a sentence to mean "don't want". It can also be placed before a noun. 别 requires a verb behind it. You can say:

这东西我不要 (I don't want this thing)
不要这东西 (same as above)

  • 1
    Whilst 不可 is usually short for 不可以, it can also be short for many other phrases, depending on context - 不可能 (not possible), 不可许 (not allowed), 万万不可 (should/must not), 不可不知 (need to - note the double negative). There's also a whole bunch of other meanings which 可 could mean but are quite archaic. Jul 4, 2013 at 7:56
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    I wonder if the difference between 不要 and 别 is similar to saying "do not" and "don't" in English. Jul 12, 2013 at 4:19
  • @MichaelLai, in a way, yes :)
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 12, 2013 at 6:47

别 is syneresis of “不” and “要”,they all mean do not.But since 别 is syneresis of “不” and “要” ,别 usually is more speech-styled,and 不要 is more formal.

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