Two words for two

Awesome image by Aaron Burden

In an earlier post, I finished showing how to count in Mandarin, including large numbers and some of the odd features of the counting, like the way that Chinese say two ten-thousands rather than twenty-thousand.

But another thing that I constantly messed up when first learning Mandarin was the word for two. And that's because there are two words for two. I suppose that's not surprising if you think about how many words we use for zero.

(èr) is two and

(liǎng) is also two

(èr) is most commonly used for counting like one, two, three, and so on.

It's also used for positions:

第 二 个 (dì èr gè) means "the second one"

第 二 次 (dì èr cì) means "the second time"

But when you are describing a number of things (and using measure words), you typically use (liǎng) instead.

两 天 (liǎng tiān) is two days

两 个 月 (liǎng gè yuè) is two months

两 块 (liǎng kuài) is two pieces (of something – and can be money)

But there are always exceptions

I would have expected two o'clock to be the counting version but it's not. It's:

两 点 (liǎng diǎn) is two o'clock (I can only imagine that it somehow relates to two positions on the clock)

And even in numbers, 两 (liǎng) can be used, to count the number of hundreds and so on:

二百 (èr bǎi) is two hundred but 两百 (liǎngbǎi) is also commonly used.

Sometimes, mixtures will be used:

一千两百零二本书 (yī qiān liǎng bǎi líng èr běn shū) is one thousand, two hundred and two books

So you can be forgiven if it's not all immediately obvious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *