5 Comparison Words to Express Inferiority using Chinese

If you want to show of your language ability then being able to contrast and compare things is a great way to prove you know your stuff. Be it comparing objects, projections or abilities this is an essential part of your language toolbox.

Mandarin Chinese Comparision - 不如

Below we’ve got 5 ways to express that something is inferior to something else. There’s a huge amount of cross-over with these words and in a lot of cases they are interchangeable, though there are very subtle differences in when the words might be used. To help try to clear things up the examples and explanations should go some way to helping you understand when it might be better to use a particular word or phrase.

不如(不如)

Pinyin: bù rú
English: not as good as; not equal to; it would be better to

The meaning of 如 is ‘like’ or ‘such as’, so adding 不 negates the statement. Therefore saying A不如B is like saying A is not like B, though this phrase not only means that A is not like B, moreover it is like saying A is not as good as B.

However, the most common usage of 不如 is to say that it would be better to do A instead of B, or doing A is not as good as doing B. For instance, you could say “when exercising, walking is not as effective as jogging” which in Chinese would be:

Traditional
在運動時,走路不如慢跑

Simplified
在运动时,走路不如慢跑

Pinyin
zài yùndòng shí, zǒulù bùrú mànpǎo

不若(不若)

Pinyin: bú ruò
English: not as good as

This phrase is essentially the same as 不如 though is a lot of the time used to express a difference in the severity, extent or general degree of which something was possible. For instance:

Traditional
那時候的資訊不若現在容易取得

Simplified
那时候的资讯不若现在容易取得

Pinyin
nàshíhòu de zīxùn búruò xiànzài róngyì qŭdé

English
At that time, the accessibility of data was not as good as it is now

Example source

In the following example 不若 is used to say that the extent of a decrease in price is ‘inferior to’ another month – in other words the decrease is not as extreme.

Traditional
食品價格月增0.3%,服飾價格則月減3.5%,不過跌幅不若去年7月的4.9%

Simplified
食品价格月增0.3%,服饰价格则月减3.5%,不过跌幅不若去年7月的4.9%

Pinyin
shípǐn jiàgé yuè zēng 0.3%, fúshì jiàgé zé yuè jiǎn 3.5%, búguò diéfú búruò qùnián 7 yuè de 4.9%

English
The cost of food rose 0.3%, while the cost of clothing, however, decreased by 3.5%, though not as much as the 4.9% seen in July.

Example source

不及(不及)

Pinyin: bù jí
English: to fall short of

While 不及 can also be used like 不若, it is also used to specifically say that A falls short of B. The difference is subtle but it is there, like with the two English sentences: “A is not as a good as B”, and “The performance of A falls short of B’s”, there is a difference in meaning.

In the following example the specifications of fighter jets are compared:

Traditional
專家稱俄T50戰機落後于F22 部分性能不及殲20

Simplified
专家称俄T50战机落后于F22 部分性能不及歼20

Pinyin
zhuānjiā chēng é T50 zhànjī luòhòuyú F22 bùfèn xìngnéng bùjí jiān 20

English
Experts claim that Russia’s T50 fighter jet lags behind the F22, and in some areas also falls short of the J-20

Note the use of 於(于), we’ll talk about that later on…

比不上(比不上)

Pinyin: bǐ bú shàng
English: doesn’t compare to

This phrase is straightforward and easy to understand, 比 being the word for compare, and 不上 expresses that in the comparison A比不上B, that A wouldn’t come out on top.

An interesting headline from China Times:

Traditional
奶茶運動飲料比不上白開水

Simplified
奶茶运动饮料比不上白开水

Pinyin
nǎichá yùndòng yǐnliào bǐbúshàng báikāishuǐ

English
Milk tea sports drinks can’t compare with plain old water

Who reaches for a cup of milk tea over water when working out?

弱於(弱于)

Pinyin: ruò yú
English: weaker than

不等於(不等于)

Pinyin: bù děng yú
English: unequal to; to be inequivalent

These last two examples have been grouped together since they both use 於(于), which means ‘than’ or ‘to’. In the first word above 弱(弱)means ‘weak’, so if we add 於 we get ‘weaker than’. The second word is a set phrase but the logic is the same, 等 means “rank/class”, so to say A不等於B means that A isn’t in the same class as B, A is is unequal or inferior to B. Below are a couple of examples to help you understand more.

To be weaker than expected:

Traditional
英國7月零售銷售月升0.2% 弱於預期

Simplified
英国7月零售销售月升0.2% 弱于预期

Pinyin
yīngguó 7 yuè língshòu xiāoshòu yuè shēng 0.2% ruòyú yùqí

English
Britain’s July retail sales figures rose by 0.2%, weaker than expected

Example source

Traditional
有航母不等於建成藍水海軍

Simplified
有航母不等于建成蓝水海军

Pinyin
yǒu hángmŭ bùděngyú jiànchéng lánshuǐ hǎijūn

English
Having an aircraft carrier isn’t equivalent to establishing a blue water (expeditionary) navy

Example source

Phew! If you made it this far then give yourself a pat on the back, learning and effectively using these phrases isn’t easy but now that you know them you’ll be able to spot when they are used and reason why that particular word was used over another.

  • Nice one, thanks for this. Its fairly complicated but definitely useful!

    • No problem, this is one of those posts that when you start writing you think it’ll only take an hour, but ends up taking a lot longer!

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  • Frank

    不若 is sort of literal. It’s rare to hear in daily conversation.