Chinese grammar: Affirmative-negative questions

A common way to form questions in Chinese is to first use a verb in the positive, then repeat the same verb in its negative form. These are called "affirmative-negative questions" or "alternative questions." The structure is:

Verb Not Verb

Note that the question provides the listener with both possible answers: it’s either "Verb" or "不 Verb."

For example:

Nǐ shì bú shì zhōnɡ ɡuó rén ?
你 是 不 是 中国人?
Are you Chinese?

Adjective Not Adjective
It can also be done with adjectives (adjectives often behave like verbs in Chinese):

Again, the question provides the listener with both possible answers: it’s either "Adjective" or "不 Adjective."

These are something like adding tag questions in English, in this case "Are you an adult or not?" If you wanted to translate it very literally, it would be, "Are you or are you not an adult?" In any case, the structure is a very common way to ask questions in Chinese.

For example:

hǎo bú hǎo ?
好 不 好?
Is it good?(or "good or not good?")

Verb Not Verb with an Object

If you want to add an object after the verb, the general sentence structure is:

Some examples:
Positive negative questions

Subject Verb Verb Object   Translation
中国人 Is she Chinese?
Does he eat meat?
Do you miss me?

有 in positive-negative questions
Because the verb 有 is negated with 没 and not 不, the structure for positive-negative questions with 有 is:

The possible answers are: "有" or "没有."

The questions could be be asking about current possession ("do you have it or not?"), or to ask about verbs in the past ("did you do it or not?").

For example:

Nǐ yǒu méi yǒu jiè wǒ de qián ?
你 有 没有 借 我的 钱?
Did you borrow my money?

Two-character verbs in positive-negative questions

All of the verbs used so far have been single-character verbs. Using two-characters verbs in positive-negative questions is slightly trickier. You usually put 不 after the first character, then put the entire verb. For example 喜不喜欢 is the usual question form of 喜欢. You can repeat the whole two-character verb twice, but it’s more common (and more elegant) to insert 不 after the first character. (The same is true of two-character adjectives.) For example:

喜欢 不 喜欢 (the whole word is repeated)
喜 不 喜欢 (only the first character is repeated)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *