In this sentence the 不 in the last few phrases seems to mean the opposite. For example 放不下 seems to mean the same as 放下 in this context. Is the Bu just decorative or is there a special structure here?


  • 2
    不 here means cannot / be unable to. 放不下 = cannot 放下; 忘不掉 = cannot 忘掉; 戒不了 = cannot 戒; 走不开 = cannot 走开.
    – Stan
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 15:50
  • Thats what i thought but when I plugged it into Google Translate it says 放不下 means lay down, which is 放下。Is google's translation wrong then? Thanks
    – rabbid
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 16:22
  • 1
    As a native speaker, I think the Google is wrong this time. @Stan is right. Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 16:36
  • Yes we can't always trust the machine translating result. But it reminds me one interesting piece of history: several years ago, some Chinese netizen found that Google translator wrongly but amazingly translate 啪啪啪 into Lovemaking ... from then on, 啪啪啪 had become an Chinese internet slang for "lovemaking" ...
    – Stan
    Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 4:00
  • Yes. Just a note, this is actually an incredibly common usage. You will see it more and more as you continue to study Chinese. Other examples include 吃不完,看不见,数不清,得不到... Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 22:51

4 Answers 4


The structure of Verb + Result Complement is used to describe the result of an action.

Eg: 做完 看见 买到 说清楚 放下 抬高 忘掉 走开 走进去 打开 关上 ect.

There are two ways to negate this structure:

  1. put negatives(不/没/别/不要/没有 etc.) before verbs, like 没做完 没忘掉 没看见 没买到 别放下 不要打开 没有走进去. This form of negation means that the action is NOT done(没有走进去/不走进去), or is asked to NOT be done(别放下), or is done but the result is not expected (没做完).

    Note: 不走进去 sounds incompleted, so we don't use it alone. But we can put it in a full sentence, like 这个房间,你 不走进去 就不知道它有多大。

  2. put negative 不 between Verb and Complement, like 做不完 看不见 买不到 抬不高 打不开 关不上. This form of negation means that the subject performed this action, but was NOT ABLE to achieve the expected result.

  • This is only partly correct. 做不完 is not a negation of 做完, but of 做得完. The potential complement is a different kettle of fish to the complement of result; for example, a temporal aspect can be included in the resultative complement as with a simplex verb when negating: 做完 => 不做完 vs. 做完了/没做完; not so with the potential: 做得完 => 做不完 vs. (?)做得完了 => 没做得完, of which 做得完了 is almost, if not entirely, impossible. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 14:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet 做完 can also mean 做得完. For example: A - 你能在3点前做完吗? B - 不能,我做不完。 Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 19:37
  • 做完 on its own does not mean 做得完. Rather, the potential complement is in the question you quote replaced by 能, a different way to express ability. If you remove 能, you remove the aspect of ability/possibility: 你在三点前做完吗? does not mean “Can you finish it by 3 o’clock?”, but rather “Do you finish it by 3 o’clock?” (and is as odd in Chinese as in English). Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 20:05
  • @JanusBahsJacquet So what would be the negative answer to the question 你在三点前做完吗? It would be 我不在三点前做完。I don't think 我在三点前不做完 is a valid sentence. Of cause we CAN use 不做完,but we need to use it in a different way, like this: 你不做完就不能回家。 Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 23:49
  • When a word/phrase has only one element, it is obvious that this element is what we can negate. But when there are more elements, there are multiple ways to do the negation. We can negate each element. 做完 has 2 elements, the action and the result. So I belive we can negate either. Negate action: 没做完/不做完, or negate result: 做不完. Just think about NOT in this sentence "He has NOT been living here for long." What does NOT negate? It doesn't negate the action of "living", but the time (how long he has been living here). Anywway, that is my understanding, and we can agree to disagree. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 23:59

In this case, Bu (不) means cannot.

So that 放不下 means "cannot" and 放下,忘不掉 means "cannot forget".


gcd0318 is correct.

不+verb+adv. = don't want to do
verb+不+adv. = not able to do (lack the ability of doning)

不走进去 = don't want to go into
走不进去 = not able to go into (probably want to go into, but failed to go)

it means not only negetive, but also disability, or impossible. say, some one mentioned 不走进去, which is totally different from 走不进去 不走进去 means you are not willing to get into, or you are lack of the motivation 走不进去 means you want to get into, even you tried, but you failed to get into

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