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CC-CEDICT: 果不其然 (guǒ​bù​qí​rán​) just as expected / told you so

The 不 in 果不其然 is confusing me.

If we break 果不其然 down into its characters, we get: = result; = not; = its; = like this; the 不 makes me think it should have the complete opposite meaning to "just as expected", something like the opposite of 果然 = "really / sure enough / as expected / if indeed".

The 不 in 供不应求 = "supply does not meet demand" and 得不偿失 = "the gains do not make up for the losses (idiom)" seem to make sense. I'm not sure why 果不其然 is different.

Question: How does 果不其然 mean "just as expected"?

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7 Answers 7

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Yes, if we translate 果不其然 literally, it means "sure enough it is not like so", which is the opposite of what the phrase actually means. This is a phenonmenon called 冗余否定(“redundant negation”), where the presence/absence of a negation does not affect the overall meaning of the sentence.

Example:

"好不容易” = “好容易” = not easy

"差点摔倒” = “差点没摔倒” = almost fell

An analogous phenomenon exists in venacular English, e.g., "I ain't got no problem" = "I got no problem". The double negation does not make an affirmation.

*Note: I have to object to the other answers. 其 does not mean 其他 in 果不其然. Although "其他" means "other", "其" by itself never means "other", you use “他” for that. "其然" is an established phrase that means "so; like so".

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  • At first, I suspected 不其 is short for不出其. You convinced me that 果然-->果不然-->果不其然 is structurally similar to 差点 -->差点没
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 6, 2022 at 16:50
  • @TangHo Thanks for agreeing. In "不出其...", “出” is a meaningful content word that would not omitted anyway. If anything needs to be omitted it has to be 其, otherwise we'd end up saying "不其所料" instead of “不出所料”.
    – EEQ
    Oct 6, 2022 at 17:38
  • But Baidu suggested 其 == 其他: m.baidu.com/from=1001192y/…
    – dan
    Oct 6, 2022 at 19:38
  • @dan Please do not trust Baidu. On anything. Look up 其 in a dictionary, you'll notice there's no definition as "other". In “其他”, "他" is the part that means "other", “其” is a demonstrative pronoun, so “其他” ≈ “those others”. It doesn't make any sense to abbreviate "其他" to "其". Instead, you can use "他" by itself to mean "other", e.g., 他山之石.
    – EEQ
    Oct 6, 2022 at 19:48
  • Perhaps you are right about this. I'm not an expert. It seems that there are also bunch of people in the other side though. Perhaps it's not that important how we take it, but how we use it.
    – dan
    Oct 6, 2022 at 20:07
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After reading some papers and searching in the corpus, I've rewritten the answer.

@EEG is right that "I find it unlikely that 不期然(“unexpcted") would be paired with 果真 (implies "expected") often enough to morph into a new phrase." Search in the corpus confirms it.

There are no hit of 果不期然, but the earliest 不其然 was used abundantly and first recorded the Spring Autumn Period. 《春秋》以德为怨,秦不其然。《论语》孔子曰:「才难,不其然乎?」From the Confucius quote, it's clear that 不其然 is 反诘 (rhetorical), which implies affirmatives.

果其然 also has some hits. The earliest is from (北宋)《新唐书》 君宝闻曰:“王者不死,果其然!”

It is much more probable that

“果(其)然”+ “不其然乎”类 → “果不(其)然”

You can read more in the paper 叶建军.“果不(其)然”的形成及其演变[J].中国语文,2016(02):192-201+255.

Some papers more or less hold that 果不然 is a merger of 果然 and 不出所料, and 果不其然 is a 增字四字格 from 果不然. (叶建军.“果不(其)然”的形成及其演变[J].中国语文,2016(02):192-201+255; 概念叠加与构式整合——肯定否定不对称的解释) I find this less convincing. 不出所料 is formally too far away.

But with either of the above two thoughts, 不 is a negative particle.


OLD ANSWER

About this word dictionaries all agree with each other.

中國大百科全書出版社《新編成語詞典》第293頁、人民日報出版社《中華詞典寶庫中華成語大詞典》第310頁 果 as 果真.

《新編成語詞典》、《中華詞典寶庫中華成語大詞典》、《新华成语大词典》gloss 然 as 这样.

《新編成語詞典》、《中華詞典寶庫中華成語大詞典》、江蘇教育出版社《漢語成語源流大辭典》 interpret 其 as a modal particle. Among them 《漢語成語源流大辭典》 says it's speculative.

None of them explained 不.


《漢語成語源流大辭典》gives a variation 果不期然. 期 is to expect. 不期然 is short for 不期然而然, which means 没有期待如此而竟然如此. It has the same meaning in 果不期然. 不期然而然 dates back to at least Song Dynasty, while 果不其然 is a Qing Dynasty coinage.

Hypothesis 1: It could be that 果不其然 is short for 果真+不期然(而然). The speculative modal particle 其 is a grammatically weakened form of 期. If so, then 不 is indeed used as a negative particle.

Hypothesis 2: If 果不其然 and 不期然 are not related, then 不 is better interpreted as semantically void.


Other variations include 果不然 (现代汉语词典(第7版)), 国不了然/果不溜然(胶辽官话《汉语方言大词典》). So 其 is first-order optional (果不其然 > 果不然), while 不 is second-order optional (果不其然 > 果不然 > 果然). Note that here '>' is just an ad hoc symbol, not derivation; 果然 is way much older than the other two, dating back to at latest Warring State Period. This seems suggestive that at first 不 is not void and thus used as a negative particle (果不其然 > 果不然) but then becomes a meaningless particle (果不然 > 果然).


In Chinese and other languages, there are indeed 冗余否定, like 好不热闹 means 好热闹. But this is not satisfactory as there's also another side. I don't know the term but it seems that a negative is missing, like 好容易 means 好不容易. I think we need a theory that can explain both scenarios at the same time.

In other structures, this phenomenon also exists. E.g. 《诗经》:王之荩臣,无念尔祖。(无念 means 念)徒御不驚,大庖不盈。(不驚 means 驚,不盈 means 盈)。Traditionally, here 不 is interpreted as 語助詞。無義。或用以足句,或表示語氣。(《辞源》).

Sagart explains it as iambic. He thinks Old Chinese is not predominately monosyllabic. Words have iambic variations which put a weak and meaningless syllable before the root. One evidence he uses is 貍, *mə-rɨ, which has an alias in 《史记》 as 不来 *pə-rɨ. This type of iambic words are most commonly recorded as 不- or 无-. This is perhaps one source of the void usage of 不. Though the spoken language has in general long lost the weak leading syllable, the legacy use of 不 persists. So in 好不热闹 and 好容易, both 不's should perhaps be interpreted as a meaningless syllable; it doesn't determine the negativeness in this structure.


Personally, I think 果不其然 is short for 果真+不期然(而然). So here 不 originally means negative. But then the even shorter form 果不然 by coincidence agrees with the void usage of 不 and the long-established word 果然. Therefore, these two usages of 不 has merged in 果不其然.


供不应求 and 得不偿失 have completely different structure: N1+不+V+N2. N1 cannot V-ing N2. N1 and N2 are verbs but used nominatively. This is common in East Asia languages, sometimes termed as verb nouns (the same form can be used either as a nominal or a verb). In this structure, 不 is always a negative. The roles of each character do not match those in 果不其然.

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  • Interesting hypothesis, but I find it unlikely that 不期然(“unexpcted") would be paired with 果真 (implies "expected") often enough to morph into a new phrase. It seems more likely that 果然 becomes 果不然, the 其 is filled in to make it a common four-character word. OTOH, I do think 冗余否定 might simply be a legacy of the iambic usage of 不, so thank you for noting that.
    – EEQ
    Oct 6, 2022 at 23:23
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    @EEQ Interesting thought. You're right. After some searching in the corpus and paper reading, I changed my view and updated in the answer.
    – lilysirius
    Oct 7, 2022 at 1:22
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果(果然)不(不是)其(其他)然(见解;那样).

果然不是其他那样 == 果然这样 == 果然 == as expected

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As the 成语 comes from a satirical work, 清 吴敬梓《儒林外史》第三回, maybe it was originally meant sarcastically and originally actually meant what it seems to say: unexpectedly.

我说姑老爷今非昔比,少不得有人把银子送上门去给他用,只怕姑老爷还不稀罕哩,今日果不其然

我说姑老爷今非昔比,
Like I said, for my son in law, things are very different nowadays,
少不得有人把银子送上门去给他用,
(it is) unavoidable that people give him cash,
只怕姑老爷还不稀罕哩,
(I'm) just afraid he doesn't cherish it,
今日果不其然。
(it happened again) today, unexpectedly.

unexpectedly here spoken in a tone indicating: just as I expected.

老贪官!

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Similar to 不其然乎, in English we also use negatives when expecting a confirmation of an obvious positive. Didn't I tell you? (I told you!), Isn't it cold out (It's cold out!), etc. It's so natural and common that most people probably don't even notice the literal negative

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果(the result)不(is not)其(something else than)然(like this) = It is expected.

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in thin line modified means not. the point is didnt means its , it could be means 'other' (其他) and its shorthand its very common in 成语

so 果不其然 should translate as

its not other reason
just one reason as I expected


orign answer:
but why 其 couldnt means others (其他)?
result is not the others.

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