Chinese Sentences (Negative Imperative) – The Similarities and Differences Between· [bié=don’t] and·不要 [bùyào=don’t]

By Sujanti Djuanda – Chinese teacher at

There are more than 100,000 characters you can use in Chinese sentences , thus making Chinese one of the most complex languages on our planet. In many cases a single simple word in English has various parallel words in Chinese that are distinguished from each other in the context they are used. One example it the word “Always” which has two parallels in Chinese sentences : [zongshi] and [laoshi]. Another important pair is for the English word “don’t”: [bié=don’t] and [bùyào=don’t]. These two words can, in some cases, both be chosen to be used but some differences that exist help distinguish when it is best to use each of them in Chinese sentences.

chinese sentences

The usage of the Chinese negative imperative in Chinese sentences 别 [bié=don’t] and 不要 [bùyào=don’t] often confuses beginners who are taking Chinese lessons. 别 [bié=don’t] and 不要 [bùyào=don’t] are used in the negative imperative sentences with/without the subject. They are placed between the subject (if any) and the adjective or verb. Chinese people tend to use 别 [bié=don’t] for well-known people.

别 [bié=don’t] has a bit weaker feeling whereas 不要 [bùyào=don’t] has more order/command feeling.

When is 别 [bié=don’t] used?

As a general rule 别 [bié=don’t] is used in the negative imperative sentences with/without the subject and mostly when the forbidding tone is weaker in comparison to the usage of 不要 [bùyào=don’t] . In any case别 [bié=don’t] is placed between the subject, when it exists, to the adjective or the verb.

An example with adjective is when you tell a person: Don’t worry

你 [nǐ=you] ·(The subject can appear or not)




Another example in Chinese sentences with a verb would be: Don’t open the window

别 [bié=don’t]

开 [kāi=open]

窗 [chuāng=window]

别 开 窗。

When is不要 [bùyào=don’t] used?

不要 [bùyào=don’t] is used as well in the negative imperative sentences that are with/without the subject. 不要 [bùyào=don’t] ·is mainly used as a command giving, at least more than 别 [bié=don’t]. Here as well it can be used between the subject, when it exists to the adjective or verb.

An adjective example:

Don’t worry!

你 [nǐ=you] ·(The subject can appear or not)

不要 [bùyào=don’t]

担心 [dānxīn=worry, feel anxious]!

你 不要 担心!

Another verb example: Don’t jaywalk!

你 [nǐ=you]

不要 [bùyào=don’t ]

乱 [luàn= in a mess]

穿 [chuān=cross]

马路 [mǎlù=street] !

你 不要 乱 穿 马路!

Remark: When 不要 [bùyào] is placed between the subject (if any) and the verb, it can also mean “don’t want”. It usually means “don’t want” when the subject is not the second personal pronoun (I, he, she, we, they) in the declarative Chinese sentences. When the subject is the second personal pronoun (you) 不要 [bùyào] can means “don’t” or “don’t want” depending on the context.

For example: I don’t want to drink cold water.

我 [wǒ=I]

不要 [bùyào=don’t want]

喝 [hē=drink]

冷水 [lěngshuǐ=cold water].

我 不要 喝 冷水。

Example when you is used together with bùyào=don’t want:

You don’t want to drink cold water, right?

你 [nǐ=you]

不要 [bùyào=don’t want]

喝 [hē=drink]

冷水 [lěngshuǐ=cold water],

是 [shì=right] ·吗 [ma] ?

你 不要 喝 冷水,是 吗?

Important: 不要 [bùyào=don’t want] can be placed between subject and noun but 别 [bié=don’t] cannot.

For example: I don’t want that orange.

我 [wǒ=I]

不要 [bùyào=don’t want]

那个 [nàge=that]

橙子 [chénzi=orange] .

我 不要 那个 橙子.

However, you cannot say:

我 [wǒ=I]


那个 [nàge=that]

橙子 [chénzi=orange] .

我 别 那个 橙子.

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