Why is the verb 有 negated by 没 instead of 不 ?

Is there some historical reason or was it just a strange accident ?


4 Answers 4


有(have) is opposite of 没有 (don't have/ have not). 没 short for 没有


沒有工作 = 沒工作 = don't have job/ work

沒有去工作 = 沒去工作 = have not gone to work/ do not go to wprk

是(positive/ is) is opposite of 否(negative) or 不是 (is not)


是否合適?= is it suitable? or is it not suitable = is it suitable?

是不是人? = is it a human? or is it not a human? = is it human?


合適 = not suitable

是人 = is not human


Difference between 不 and 沒

不 = not; negative

沒 = have not; don't have


工作 (not working)

不 here implies "refusal" of a verb


工作 (don't have job)

工作 (have not work)

沒 here implies "absent" of a noun or "negative" of a verb in past participle form

Since 有(have) implies "present" therefore we use 沒(don't have) for its opposite form "absent" (沒有)


We say 不是 instead of 沒是 because 不 here implies "negative", thus negative of 是(being) became 不是 (not being).

If we say 沒是, it would imply 1. "don't have being" ("being" in not a noun here) or 2. "have not being" (it would be in past participle form), neither is correct for expressing "not being"

  • 1
    Thanks Tang Ho , but I already understand how to use 不 and 没. My question is why is 有 not negated by 不 ? Why do we not say 不有 ?
    – Kantura
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 14:43
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    So, you would want to know why 是 is opposite of 不是 but not 没是 too?
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 14:51
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    Yeah , I guess that is an extension of my question. Do you have an answer ?
    – Kantura
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 15:07
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    @Kantura - See my edition, I try my best to explain, hope it helps
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 15:44
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    @Kantura It is either "没工作/ 没有工作" or "不工作". "工作" in "没工作/ 没有工作" can be either a noun (without job) or verb (have not work). It is already ambiguous; "工作" in "不工作" can only be a verb. saying "不有工作" would be even more confusing. 不 can only be used with verb, but 有 implies 工作 is a noun
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:13

This is a knottier question than it first appears. The answer is hard to summarise, but it seems to be related to the special status of 有 and 無 from the beginning of Chinese.

In the Old Chinese of the oracle bones, there seems to be fairly neat system of four. 不, 弗, 毋, 勿, where each of these is a combination of p-type vs m-type, reflecting non-modal (uncontrollable) vs modal (controllable / volitional) respectively; and vowel-final vs *ɯd final, which reflects stative/eventive/passive vs not. There was also 非 as a straightforward merger of a p-type with the verb 惟/唯/維.

Discussions of oracle bone Chinese often keep 亡 and 無 to one side, as they are verbs with negative polarity, and they replace 有 in negative sentences, rather than negating it. [Look in the 詩經: 亡 and 無 rarely paired with 有, and the two times 無 is with 有, it has a "futurity" about it, similar to modern Mandarin 不要 or 不會] We thus see that even from the time of Old Chinese, 有 was already a bit "special", different from other verbs. Compare Tibetan མེད med, the negative form (and not particle / prefix) of ཡོད yod, to be / exist (used in the construction for have).

According to Chappell & Peyraube (2016), 沒 was used before the Yuan, and only appeared with 沒有 from the Yuan onwards (specifically by 1350). It had been "semantically extended" from its root meaning of "sink" via "disappear", replacing 無 and then "extending to an aspectual negator or a marker expressing a perfective negation".

We see that in southern varieties of Chinese, negative equivalents of 有 (rather than negative adverbs) still exist: e.g. Min 無 (Southern Min POJ: , Fuzhounese BUC: mò̤); Cantonese 冇 mou5 (with a different tone to the now literary 無 mou4), Northern Wu 嘸沒 (Shanghainese hhmm meq). Interestingly, Xiang varieties generally use 冒得 instead of a cognate of 無 on its own for the negative of 有: an example of suppletion; 無 is still used as a perfective with verbs though.

So there is just something about 有 and 無 that became amplified with its use in the "perfective" through Middle Chinese.


Our moderator @songyuanyao has already provided a good link, here I make some additions:

没 is the opposite of 有, which implys the objective absence, while 不 is mere negation.

Is 不有 valid?

Yes! But it appears in classical Chinese, and idioms originating from it.

  • 有 means 占有(seize), so it can be simply negated by 不:





  • 有 means 存在(exist) as the opposite of 无:



  • 有 means 具有,拥有(have, possess)as the most frequent meaning today:





But! A very important thing is that 不有 is not closely combined to mean 没有 today. 不 is just a negative word negating the whole in the ().

You might ask: 我不(有工作)seems valid, too! But when lacking classical context, it appears very harsh to hear.

So if you write something like “明,年已弱冠,学已通博,反闲娱于家宅而不有业。”(小明年纪也成年了,书也读出来了,却闲在家里玩没有工作。)I think it's Okay QwQ.

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    Thanks, when I refused 不有 as a valid term, I was only thinking of the modern Chinese, didn't consider in classical context, wording was very different , for example, nouns were often used as verbs, which modern Chinese rarely does. Nowadays no one would replace 佔有 or 擁有 with 有
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 17:33
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    For example, 业 in 反闲娱于家宅而不业 would be a verb for "have job"
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 17:39
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    @TangHo I know 业 can directly mean have a job, but I just wanted to use 不有 hahhah. In fact 赋闲 is the best choice. Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 17:43

没 denotes the sense of non-existence, while 不 is a general negation. The other way to think of it is that 没 is the short version of 没有. In other words, you can replace 没 with 没有 when 没 precedes a verb. For example, 他没来=他没有来; 门没关=门没有关;etc.

不 is used with other words(except for 有) such as 是 to form the negation. E.g. 这不是我做的; 我不管; 我不说;etc.

Furthermore, compare 我没有说 and 我不说. 我没有说 means the fact that I have said it is non-existent, that is to say, I haven't said it. 我不说 means I won't say it.

Hope this clear.

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