It seems a little strange that

可不 and

(by themselves) imply agreement (something like 就是). The textbook 标准教程HSK4上 has some examples, e.g.:

A: 没想到咱们毕业都已经十年了。
B: 可不是!时间过得太快了,真想大家。

I'm expecting there's an underlying reason for this I'm unaware of. Perhaps it's a rhetorical question like "Is it not?"

Question: Why do 可不 and 可不是 by themselves imply agreement?

It seems like they should both mean "but no" (i.e., disagreement). Indeed, they also mean this, e.g. (sourced from YouDao):

This will not be easy, however.

  • I'd like to ask a native if they'd say that this 可 feels as a "but" to them. A "但不是吗" expression would feel too strange for you natives? Nov 6, 2019 at 20:30
  • you understand it correctly. when no other words followed, it just means "Isn't it?" Nov 7, 2019 at 9:01

5 Answers 5


可不,可不是,可不是吗,可不就是吗,etc are colloquial phrases to agree what the other has just said.

I'm not quite sure of the exact underlying reason, but I echo your suspicion - perhaps it's a rhetorical question like "Is it not?".

However, we should be cautious that sometimes it can mean negation too as in the OP's example: 这可不那么简单. In this case, we read as 这可/不那么简单. If you add 就 and 吗 in the sentence: 这可不就那么简单吗,it becomes a rhetorical question, meaning Isn't it that simple=it is that simple.

So, the way to determine (negative or positive) is based on the syntax and context. If 不 goes with 可,then it's positive. If 不 goes with the other part, then it's negative.

  • [可不 + v ] or [可不 + adj] are not the same as "可不是?" See my examples 可不交稅 = able to not pay tax; 事情可不简单 = things are not actually simple
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 31, 2019 at 22:51

可不 and 可不是 are short forms of 可不是吗/可不就是吗? it is is a rhetorical question, meaning agreement with emphasis.

But in a sentence like: 这可不简单. It is a declarative sentence, meaning "This is actually not easy ". Usually used with 然而/但是 etc. meaning disagreement with previous context.


From the examples in your link, you can see "可不" is not a set term, it is two adverbs "可" (able to) and "不" (not), followed by a verb or verb phrase


可不交稅 =可以不用交稅 (able to not pay tax)

可不即時作答 = 可以不用即時作答 (able to not answer right away)

Another form we see 可不 together is "可" means "actually" and "不" means "not", followed by an adjective


这件事(可)不简单 = this affair is (actually) not simple

要成功(可)不容易 = it is (actually) not easy to success

可不是 (could it be not?) functions the same as "isn't it?" in English . It is a rhetorical question (meaning it is actually a statement-- that expects the listener to agree)


They are not the same word, just written the same.

There are several different 可's in Mandarin.

  1. "able to; can; permitted to";

  2. "but; though";

  3. roughly, "actually" "so";

  4. roughly, "so", as emphasis (usually stressed)

    and some other ones...

Indeed it makes no sense for it to be "but not" and imply agreement. It means "isn't it so." instead.


I suggest you forget the link you post, I have to say there is no "可不" in Chinese. it sound like "ilik eapp le"

you cant explain[可][不][是],[可不是,.....]at the front means [indeed....]

然而however,这this可is不not那么that简单easy。 your example is not that complicated

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