- 伓, 吥, 坏, 妚, 怀, 抔, 㳅, 还, 阫, 肧, 杯, 炋, 环, 𭾟, 𥐴, 紑, 𦤹, 𧉈, 衃, 䞜, 鈈(钚), 䬪, 𡮗, 鴀(𫛜), 㞸, 芣, 罘, 𮅁, 䯱, 丕, 㔻, 否, 奀, 㫘, 㶪, 𠀱, 㶨, 𠀰, 甭, 盃, 歪, 𧖯, 𧗩, 𠀾, 孬, 覔, 𠁆, 䬩, 嫑, 𧶏, 𠁙, 𠁞, 囨
- KangXi: page 76, character 15
- Dai Kanwa Jiten: character 19
- Dae Jaweon: page 149, character 4
- Hanyu Da Zidian (first edition): volume 1, page 11, character 6
- Unihan data for U+4E0D
|simp. and trad.
|Historical forms of the character 不|
|Shang||Western Zhou||Warring States||Shuowen Jiezi (compiled in Han)||Liushutong (compiled in Ming)|
|Oracle bone script||Bronze inscriptions||Bronze inscriptions||Chu slip and silk script||Qin slip script||Small seal script||Transcribed ancient scripts|
The character 不 originated as a pictograph of the calyx of a flower. It was then composed into a phono-semantic character with the pictograph for mouth (口), to form 否 (), representing “no” (negation). This composed meaning then spread back to the original character *brɯʔ, *pɯʔ不, making it a synonym of 否. A new character of 柎 () was eventually created to represent the original meaning of calyx. *po
Old Chinese had two sets of negatives: the initial *p-series and the initial *m-series. 不 is the prototype of the *p-series of negatives. Although it is the usual Literary Chinese negative attested from the oracle bone script down, its current usage is now confined to Mandarin dialects. In the oracle bone inscriptions, a total of five negative particles can be found: 不, 弗, 毋, 勿 and 非. With the exception of 非 (discussed later), the remaining can be neatly organised into the following system:
|*p-type negatives (< ?)||不 () *pɯ, *pɯʔ, *pɯ'||弗 () *pɯd|
|*m-type negatives (< Proto-Sino-Tibetan *ma)||毋 () *ma
(無 ()) *ma
|勿 () *mɯd|
Takahashi (1996) argued that the *m-type negatives are modal (i.e. negative verbs which are thought of as controllable by the Shang), whereas the *p-type negatives are non-modal (imply uncontrollability; actions which are beyond the control of living persons).
In the *p-series, 不 usually goes with intransitive verbs in the oracle bone script, and 弗 () with transitive ones, although there are some glaring exceptions. Little or no pattern can be discerned in the *m-type category. *pɯdTakahashi (1996) also proposed that the difference between the two vowel series was whether they preceded “stative, eventive, passive” (*-V series) or “non-stative, non-eventive, active” (*-ɯd series) verbs.
It is possible that the two parallel series of negatives in Old Chinese represent a fusion of the common Sino–Tibetan *ma (“no, not”) (carried by the eastward-migrating early Sino–Tibetans) and an indigenous negation system in Central China, and that the merger had been complete by the Shang times. Compare a similar system in Proto-Tai: *ɓawᴮ (“not [strong form 1]”), *boːᴮ (“not [strong form 2]”), *miːᴬ (“not [weak form]”); Thai บ่ (bɔ̀ɔ, “(literary, archaic, dialectal) not”).
The development from Old Chinese to Middle Chinese was not regular. The character 不 replaced 弗 (OC *pɯd, MC *piut), to respect the naming taboo for Emperor Zhao of Han, although the pronunciation has remained in nearly all topolects (e.g. Beijing Mandarin bù, Guangzhou Cantonese bat1, Meixian Hakka bud5, Shanghai Wu peq). The Modern Standard Mandarin pronunciation is also from this checked coda word, but this word escaped from regular sound changes during its evolution to the modern pronunciation bù. The expected reading is fu (tone undetermined), with labiodentalisation. The rising-tone pronunciation had a Middle Chinese homophone 否 (“not”), which is now primarily used in compounds, and demonstrates the regular development into modern f-. Another example of a high-frequency word escaping this sound change is 父 (, “dad”), which resulted in the late coinage of the character *paʔ, *baʔ爸 (bà).
不 is cognate with other negation particles in the *p-type category:
- 弗 (, “not”); *pɯd
- 非 (, “not be; not”) – can be safely regarded as a fusion of *pɯj不 (, “not”) and *pɯ, *pɯʔ, *pɯ'惟 (, “to be”); *ɢʷi
- 否 (, “not; to be wrong”); *brɯʔ, *pɯʔ
- 匪 (, “it is not; to be not”); and *pɯjʔ
- 棐 (, “it is not; to be not”). *pɯjʔ
- (preceding verbs and adjectives) not
- (between a verb and a complement) can not
- no (answer to a yes-no question)
- Used with 就 (jiù) to indicate the first of two alternatives.
- (colloquial) Question particle placed at the end of the sentence.
- (colloquial) Intensifying particle often used with 好 (hǎo).
- † Meaningless particle used in poems and other texts.
- The tone changes from fourth to second tone when followed by a fourth-tone syllable.
- Sense "not":
- The past-perfect form of 不 is 沒／没 (méi) or 未 (wèi), not *不了
- 我不當兵。 / 我不当兵。 ― Wǒ bù dāngbīng. ― I am not becoming a soldier.
- 我沒當兵。 / 我没当兵。 ― Wǒ méi dāngbīng. ― I did not become a soldier.
- 我未當兵。 / 我未当兵。 ― Wǒ wèi dāngbīng. ― I have not yet become a soldier.
- 我不當兵了。 / 我不当兵了。 ― Wǒ bù dāngbīng le. ― I am no longer a soldier.
- Note that the 4th sentence does not mean "I have not become a soldier". Syntactically, 不 is a verb prefix that forms a stative verb with the verb to be negated. Therefore it can not be modified by the perfective aspect marker 了 (le), which modifies only dynamic verbs. When 了 appears in a 不 sentence, it usually functions as a marker of "currently relevant state" instead.
- 不 can not be used before the verb 有 (yǒu, “to have”). Use 沒／没 (méi) instead.
- 不 can not be used before compounds beginning with 有, or another 不. Depending on the context, other negative particles must be used instead which formally contain a predicate or auxiliary, e.g., 不是 (bùshì), 並非／并非 (bìngfēi), imperfective 沒有／没有 (méiyǒu), epistemic 不會／不会 (bùhuì).
- The verb can be elided, as in the following:
- An equivalent construction is not valid in Cantonese.
- The past-perfect form of 不 is 沒／没 (méi) or 未 (wèi), not *不了
- Sense "can not":
- "not" and "can not" are distinguished only by word order.
- Since 不 must be placed before a complement, if there is no complement in the sentence, a placeholder 了 (liǎo) can be used for this purpose.
- Sense "no": Although 不 can be used like English no to answer a yes/no question, it is more natural to answer it by changing the question to a negative statement.
- † Alternative form of 否 (fǒu, “negation and question particle”).
- A surname.