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How to use “nìng yuàn” in Chinese

learn chinese, chinese grammar

Here are a couple of sentence structures for "宁愿 (nìng yuàn)":


宁愿 … 也不 …

宁愿 … 也要 …

The two are related but their meanings are opposite in some ways. This is an explanation of the grammar and usage of 宁愿.


Rather A than B

宁愿 [A] 也不 [B]

This structure is really useful and pretty straightforward. It's used to express that someone would rather do action A than action B.


However, it's not exactly the same as 'would rather … than …' in English. Whilst it can be used to express a general preference, quite often it has the connotation that neither choice is particularly desirable, it's just that A isn't as bad as B.

不过,它并不完全类似英语里的"would rather … than …"。虽然它用于表示一般偏好,它往往暗示两种选择都让人不满意,只是A优于B。

The general structure is:


[someone] 宁愿 [verb phrase A] 也不 [verb phrase B]

It's not essential to express the alternative option, in which case the structure is simpler:


[someone] 宁愿 [verb phrase A]


wǒ nìngyuàn bù shuō chūlái. 

I'd rather not say.


tā nìngyuàn xīngqīwǔ qù. 

He'd prefer to go on Friday.


nǐ nìngyuàn shuōhuǎng yě bùyào ràng tā shēngqì ma? 

Would you rather lie than make him angry?


wǒ nìngyuàn sǐ yě bùyào gěi nǐ jiéhūn! 

I'd rather die than marry you!

Rather [A] and [B]

宁愿 [A] 也要 [B]

This structure doesn't contrast the two options. Instead, it's used to explain that someone is willing to do something in order to achieve something else, or forego A but have B. A is undesirable, but B is worth it.


The general structure is:


[someone] 宁愿 [verb phrase A] 也要 [verb phrase B]


wǒ nìngyuàn bù shuìjiào yě yào kànwán zhè běn shū. 

I'd rather not sleep and finish reading this book.


wǒ nìngyuàn méiyǒu qián yě yào zhǎodào àiqíng. 

I'd rather have no money but find love.


wǒ nìngyuàn táo xué yě yào wán diànzǐ yóuxì. 

I'd rather keep busy and learn Chinese.

Translated from: eastasiastudent.net

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