In English you could use two forms when expressing a sentence that has a plural form with a value of "0". For example:

You have 2 unread messages.

Could be either:

You have 0 unread messages.

Or the negative form:

You have no unread messages.

It would be the same thing in Chinese:


Or the negative form:


Is using negative forms a common way to increase fluency in Chinese or are both forms equally fluent? In other words, if we could pick both form, would one be better than the other?

Also, is this a general recommendation or are there exceptions around this?


2 Answers 2


Like in most languages, expression of the concept of not having anything in Chinese is most naturally done as a negative, viz


My English voicemail employs "You don't have any unread messages" in the same way.

However, the use of 零 líng + a classifier like 個 gè is attested, albeit in very limited contexts, most commonly in temperature (to "count" 0 degrees of the scale, e.g. 零度).


I think in the context that you have described, which is a pre-formatted text that is used in computer programs, both would be seen to be equally acceptable because the context is clear and there is no real ambiguity as to why it is expressed in one or the other manner.

However, if we are talking about a natural conversational setting then it obviously makes more sense to express zero with a negative form. I thought it was just worth pointing out that the context is quite important if you are considering whether the expression is naturally or not when translated or in native form of another language.

  • Are you saying that is it expected for Chinese software to sound less fluent? In North America, at least, good user experience (UX) typically involves easy to understand the content which will take into account factors like fluency. It's very easy nowadays to have fluent content in various language but maybe expectations are different for Chinese? Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 4:47
  • Well, from my experience if you were translating from English to Chinese then this seems to be the way things are done. But if you were translating from Chinese to English then maybe the structure of the sentence would be formatted in a different way to allow easier translation of Chinese into English. When you are dealing with large volumes of text, the quality control in terms of fluency tends to be less of a priority compared to getting through the content. Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 22:17

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