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As far as I know, the negative form of a verb is formed by adding 不 to the verb. 没 is used only with the verb 有.

On the other hand, there is no present/past modification in Chinese. Hence, the sentence 我去学校 can both mean "I go to school" and "I went to school".

Logically, the sentence 我不去学校 should both mean "I don't go to school" and "I didn't go to school".

But I often see, that for making negative past tense verbs, 没(有) is also used.

Then, what's the difference between these two sentences: a) 我不去学校。 b) 我没(有)去学校。

5 Answers 5

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With the exception of the verb 有,不 is used to negate future, present or habitual actions, while 没(有)is used to negate past actions. 不 and 没(有)are not interchangeable in this situation as they change the meaning of the sentence.

For more information, take a look at Negation of past actions with "meiyou" and Standard negation with "bu" from the Chinese Grammar Wiki (which is an excellent resource for Chinese grammar, up to B2 or HSK 4-5 level).

Concerning your examples:

a) 我不去学校。

This, depending on context, can mean:

  • I do not go to school.

  • I am not going to school.

b) 我没(有)去学校。

This means:

  • I did not go to school.
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有 and 没(有) function exactly the same as have and haven't do in English such as in the sentence "I have already finished" or in the sentence "I haven't done my homework".

a) 我不去学校。

I don't go to school

b) 我没(有)去学校。

I haven't gone to school

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I think generally speaking, 有 and 没有 describes a form of existence, and 不 describes a form of action or attribute. So in your examples, 不去 describes a form of action, and it doesn't imply that it's already happened. It can be 不想去(don't want to go) or 不会去(will not go) or even with no tense. However, if you say 没有去, it is a form of existence (happened) to describe current status, so it's for things already happened.

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Linguistic negation is actually quite a bit more complicated than it seems, since the scope of what exactly is negated and what implications are implied by the negation in a particular language can depend on multiple factors.

The characters 没(有) are used to negate the existence of something or the occurrence of an event. The character 不 is used to negate other aspects of an event or any other type of assertion that does not express an event at all.

The sentence 我没(有)去学校。expresses the non occurrence of the event of going to school. When talking about something in the past, it would normally mean: "I didn't go to school." Referring to the present, it could also translate "He hasn't gone to school." Referring to a future event, it could else express something like "without my going to school."

The sentence 我不去学校。would usually be taken as meaning as "I won't or wouldn't go to school" (indicating refusal). Here the 不 negates some other proposition of "going to school" other than its occurrence. Often it indicates a negative intention or refusal, but could also negate that "going to school" was a habit. It does not assert, other than by implication, the actual non-occurrence of the event.

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In this case, 沒 is associated with the past action/event (something/action hasn't been realized), while 不 is associated with the present action/event (something/action not to happen, or something/action not going to happen). So,

a) 我不去学校 = I don't go to school; I am not going to school

b) 我没(有)去学校 = I didn't go to school

Examples:

- Past Tense: 我"(前天)"去学校, 我"(昨天也)"去学校, 我"(今天又)"去学校

- Present Tense: 我"(現在)"去学校**, 我"(今天)"去学校, 我"(明天也)"去学校

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  • 我不去学校 can be a complete sentence. E.g. A: 你去学校吗? B: 我不去学校。
    – dan
    Jan 6 at 0:46
  • @dan Grammarly Yeah, agreed.
    – r13
    Jan 6 at 0:57

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