Recently, I've been turning my Chinese learning towards speaking and listening, rather than reading and writing. Now, I might say "cannot study" in a few ways:

  • 不能学习
  • 学习不了
  • 无法学习

The sentence I have in mind is this:


I know the sentence is not really true---it's hyperbole to express "mathematicians cannot study without coffee".

I feel like 无法学习 is more written than spoken, and maybe 不能学习 is a bit simplistic. I don't really know.

Question: When speaking, how would one say "I cannot study"?

  • In your second example, is this a common. Usage of 不? I've never seen it used like this before and pleco says 不了 translates as nonstop, so wouldnt that imply you study nonstop (admittedly the grammar would be backwards) ? Mar 11, 2020 at 5:34
  • 不了 is often added after verbs to indicate it's impossible, e.g. 吃不了 and 做不了 (see Chinese Grammar Wiki)---I don't think it's a word in itself which is probably why it's missing from Pleco [although it's in CC-EDICT]. I don't know about 学习不了 in particular (hence the question).
    – Becky 李蓓
    Mar 11, 2020 at 5:46
  • 1
    For your sentence, I would say: 所有數學家都需要咖啡,沒有咖啡的話任何數學家都學習不了。I would be careful on 每個 vs 任何, as well as using 都 in the second clause for the hyperbole. Mar 11, 2020 at 6:00

3 Answers 3


The common Chinese for the idea of "mathematicians cannot study without coffee" is 没有咖啡数学家无法学习 or 没有咖啡数学家学不了习. The former is a bit formal and the latter colloquial.

To put with a bit exaggeration,we can say 没有咖啡数学家们简直无法学习 or 无咖啡数学家们简直学不了习.


All of your answers are right. the difference is, on mainland Chinese, 无法学习 is the most formal one, as in scientific reports; 不能学习 is what we say if we are writing dairy/novels. 学习不了 is the most informal one, usually used when talking to friends, etc.

Note I used mainland Chinese, because I don’t know how they say it in HK/TW/Macau.


没有咖啡我就不能学习。 Without coffee I can't study. (Me too!)

I think 学不了 sounds better 学习不了, but maybe that's just a rhythm thing.

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