Chinese Grammar: 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 非...不可! Let’s look at this pattern to emphasize that only you can do it!
Let's take a moment to break down this expression 非...不可.
- 非 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 it?
These words together 非...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 非...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.
非 + a personal pronoun + 不可
This position only belongs to you.
这 项 任务非他不可。
Only he can do this task.
这不 是 一 个非她不可的 工作 ， 任何 人 都 能 做 好。
This isn’t a job that only she can do; anyone can do it well.
With a verb
When 非...不可 is used with verbs, it can emphasize two situations: either "to have to" or "something is going to happen".
非 + verb/verb phrase + 不可
“ have to”/ “must to do” meaning
When it means “have to”/ “must to do”, 非...不可 shows somebody has to do something.
I have to go there.
这个 问题 他非回答不可。
He has to answer this question.
I must learn Chinese.
"Something is going to happen" meaning
The structure 非...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”.
天 这么 阴，非下雨不可。
The sky is so cloudy, it’ s going to rain soon.
这样 下去 你非迟到不可。
You're going to be late like this.
再说 下去 她非生气不可。
She is going to be angry if you keep talking about this.