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Chinese Grammar: Lesson: Expressing obligation with 非...不可

Is there something that you must do or that must be done by someone? I bet all of you guys find yourselves bound to such situations in daily life. You could use 必须 to say you “should” or “must” do when you need to talk about a situation where you have no choice. But today is not one of those days.

Today, it's time to know a more delightful way to express an obligation: the pattern ...不可! Let’s look at this pattern to emphasize that only you can do it!

Rules

Let's take a moment to break down this expression ...不可.

  • means “no" or "not”, and is the short version of 非得 “only”.
  • 不可 means “cannot”, "should not".

Knowing that, the pattern's meaning is pretty clear, isn't?

These words together ...不可, in this pattern, form a double negative (双重 否定 in Chinese). It emphasizes a strong and unique negative meaning.

This double-no structure means business: when you use it, you're showing that there is no option but to do this thing.

This pattern is usually used in two ways, first mirroring a personal pronoun and secondly framing a verb.

With a personal pronoun

You can use ...不可 to frame a personal pronoun when you want to emphasize a condition. It stresses that only a particular person can do the thing the speaker is speaking about.

Structure

+ a personal pronoun + 不可

Examples

这个 职位不可
This position only belongs to you.

任务不可
Only him can do this task.

这不 不可 工作任何
This isn’t a job that only she can do; anyone can do it well.

With a verb

When ...不可 is used with verbs, it can emphasize two situations: either "to have to" or "something is going to happen".

Structure

+ verb/verb phrase + 不可

“ have to”/ “must to do” meaning

When it means “have to”/ “must to do”, ...不可 shows somebody has to do something.

Examples

不可
I have to go there.

这个 问题 回答不可
He has to answer this question.

汉语不可
I must learn Chinese.

"Something is going to happen" meaning

The structure ...不可 can also be used to predict an event, something that will certainly or must happen according to a certain context. You can understand it as in English “something is going to happen”.

Examples

这么 下雨不可
The sky is so cloudy, it’ s going to rain soon.

这样 下去 迟到不可
You're going to be late like this.

再说 下去 生气不可
She is going to be angry if you keep talking about this.

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