Difference between ‘两 liang’ and ‘二 er’
In the Chinese language there are two ways to say “two” and this grammar point catches out a lot of foreigners, especially for Beginner Chinese students. Let’s go over it here!
In a nutshell though:
- Use ‘两liǎng’ for measuring things, such as ‘two people’ or ‘two cups of coffee’
- Use ‘两liǎng’ to say ‘Two o’clock’
- Use ‘二èr’ in all other situations
Let’s look at the difference between ‘liang’ and ‘er’ in some more details. Try to study it but don’t worry if you still mistakes. In time, Difference between ‘两liǎng’ and ‘二èr’ will become natural.
When to use 两liǎng
The main thing is that 两liǎng is used as a quantifier.
We can say 两liǎng + an amount, with a measure word:
- 两个人 liǎng gè rén (Two people)
- 两只鸡 liǎng zhī jī (Two chickens)
- 两杯咖啡 liǎng bēi kāfēi (Two cups of coffee)
This also kinda works for nouns that don’t need quantifiers, such as ‘hour’ (小时xiǎoshí), ‘day’ (天tiān), or ‘year’ (年nián).
We can say:
- 两(个)小时 liǎng (gè) xiǎoshí (Two hours)
- 两天 liǎng tiān (Two days)
- 两年 liǎng nián (Two years)
But we don’t say:
- 第两小时 dì liǎng xiǎoshí
- 第两天 dì liǎng tiān
- 第两年 dì liǎng nián
So you can say “我学了中文两年Wǒ xuéle zhōngwén liǎng nián“ (I studied Chinese for two years), and “这是我第三年学中文Zhè shì wǒ dì sān nián xué zhōngwén” (This is the third year I’m learning Chinese).
两 is also used for ‘two o’clock’, such as:
- 我两点有课Wǒ liǎng diǎn yǒu kè (I have class at two o’clock)
When to use 二èr
‘二èr’ is used to describe cardinal or ordinal numbers. That sounds pretty formal, just think of as normal numbers, when without a measure word. When counting from 1 to 10, you say ‘二èr’ (一二三。。。Yī’ èr sān…).
So if you’re reading out a telephone number you say “二èr” for a two. And if you’re on a tour and you need to take bus #2, you say “二号Èr hào”.
The only exception for numbers is hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, etcetera:
- 二èr (2)
- 二十èr shí (20)
- 两百liǎng bǎi (200)
- 两千liǎng qiān (2,000)
- 两万liǎng wàn (20,000)
So for instance we’ll say:
- 两百二十 liǎng bǎi èr shí (220)
And as said above, we use “二èr” when there’s a quantifier:
- 第二个dì èr gè (the second)
- 第二辆dì èr liàng (the second vehicle)
We can say “第+二+ nouns that don’t need quantifiers:
- 第二天dì èr tiān (the second day)
- 第二年dì èr nián (the second year)
- 百分之二Bǎi fēn zhī èr (2%)
- 二分之一Èr fēn zhī yī (1/2)
Here is a chart to make it more clear
|Represents an indeterminate number
|Weights and Measures units||
|In the ones and tens
|In multiple digits
|Hundreds (including hundreds) and above use “两”:
||Tens and ones:
|In expressing decimals, fractions, percentages
|represent cardinal and ordinal numbers (used for counting)
|before various quantifiers